Maria Mejia-Ng of New Life Community, a Mennonite Brethren church in Dinuba, California, is a serial entrepreneur. A native of Nicaragua, her most recent enterprise is called Radiant Valley Interpreting, offering written translation and live interpretation for schools, businesses, churches, and nonprofit organizations. Her previous enterprises have included a food pantry for students at Fresno Pacific University and College Minions which employs students for catering events.
How many businesses have you started?
That question brings back some great memories. From 2011 through 2013 I served as a missionary with Students International. As the microfinance site leader, I helped many women start or expand their small businesses. I’ve started approximately 50 businesses—street vendors, craft and hammock making, beauty shops—but none of them were actually mine.
When did you first become interested in business?
Growing up in Nicaragua I always loved to go to the bank with my mom and see all these working women with their heels and make-up. When I was 12 I asked my dad if I could take a typing course at a trade school. By the time I graduated from high school I had also taken their 3-year course in computers and accounting. At age 18 I was an agricultural loan officer at a bank and developed a huge passion for helping people grow financially.
What prompted the start of Radiant Valley Interpreting?
Soon after finishing my master’s degree in leadership at Fresno Pacific University, I applied for residency in the U.S. Unfortunately, you can’t get a work permit while you’re waiting for residency. For many years I had been interpreting, mostly on a volunteer basis. God showed me it would be okay to charge fees for my service to support myself. Many groups I had been volunteering for said, “Okay, Maria, what are your rates and when are you available?”
What special qualities do you bring as an immigrant entrepreneur?
I’ve had to learn how to navigate two different worlds, not just bilingual but bicultural. For instance, in Hispanic culture you are taught to respect your superiors—you would never ask for a raise. In the U.S., asking for a raise shows initiative. I’ve been able to teach other Hispanic women not to sell themselves short. If they clean houses, I show them how to get a business license and be able to charge $25 an hour instead of $15. I love the chance to empower others.
How has your interpreting skill fit in with your church’s ministry?
New Life is here to serve our community which is 80 percent Hispanic. Every week we see people come who don’t speak English. I grab my equipment and interpret for them. I also volunteer at the office on Mondays. God has blessed us all with different gifts and talents, and I want to make sure I use those given to me for his glory.