Immigration and Entrepreneurship: a Love Story

United States Activism
by Tania Zapata Nov 7, 2016

It was toward the end of 2000 when I first met Alex Torrenegra.

We were both attending a networking event and hit it off immediately. Of all the things we had in common, the biggest was that we were both from Bogota, Colombia and moved to the United States to follow our dreams.

At the time, I was a traffic manager and radio personality at a Hispanic radio station. Before that, I hustled to make ends meet. I cleaned offices, packed boxes in a warehouse, and even worked at an ice cream shop.

I came to the U.S. as a green card holder when I was 18, after a 12-year process that started with sponsorship from my uncle. He sponsored my mom, and I was the only lucky one of my siblings who got the green card at that point. Now I’m a citizen. My brother, on the other hand, wasn’t so fortunate. For years, we did all we could to help him get a visa. When our mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, we petitioned the government to at least let him visit her with a tourist visa. The answer was still no. The helplessness and frustration was overwhelming, but I had to keep it together to be there for mom. In 2009, she lost her battle and our family is forever heartbroken that my brother missed the last precious years of her life.

Alex was already a tech entrepreneur who started his first business in Bogota at the age of 14 before launching and selling two others. At 19, he relocated to the U.S. with the intention of staying and launching an Internet business.

Alex has always been a visionary thinker. At that time, there were very few people focused on Internet-based entrepreneurship. It was as if Alex could see things that others couldn’t imagine. His strategic and clear thinking is like that of a chess master, always planning moves well in advance, somehow knowing how things will pan out.

Alex had a much more difficult time than I did staying in the U.S. To begin with, he had to extend his tourist visa before deciding to go back to school in order to secure a student visa.

We started dating, four months after we met. Our love for tech and the American Dream kept our passion burning bright. We dreamed big, throwing around ideas that left us both excited and closer than ever. Around the same time, I left my job at the radio station to launch my career as a freelance voiceover actress. Working in radio brought to my attention the voiceover acting world, and I was fascinated from the start. Little did I know at the time that my desire to be behind the mic would only be the start of an incredible journey.

Just a few months later, we decided to launch our first company. This way we were able to continue freelancing and consulting while chasing our aspirations. A couple of months after launching our first business together, America experienced the darkest day in its history; September 11, 2001.

Everything was different after that horrible day.

Any change to a visa would have to be done in the country of origin. We were certain that if Alex returned to Colombia to try to get any change on his visa status, he would not be allowed to return. Just four weeks after the tragedy, Alex and I decided that getting married would be the answer to our dilemma. We headed over to City Hall in Miami and signed the papers. There were no rings, no reception, no party, and most importantly, no fear. It was just the two of us, young and in love with big dreams.

Once married, I became the one to speed up Alex’s green card. He finally became a citizen on August 16th, 2007. When he got his citizenship, he’d been living in the U.S. for almost nine years.

Alex and I teamed up in more than one way. We are life partners, business partners, and parents of a young daughter. We run multiple businesses, and we are constantly pushing the boundaries of both business and life.

immigration and entrepreneurship

We are very fortunate that we have had such great opportunities. We know that the path we are on would not have been possible had we met back in Bogota. Now, as the co-founders of Bunny Inc., our goal is to enable humankind to reach its full potential. Bunny Inc. employs dozens of creative minds with entrepreneurial spirits from all over the world. We have big plans for the future, and we couldn’t be happier to be able to work on them together.

The entrepreneurial spirit isn’t for everyone. It requires extreme dedication and motivation. Alex and I will never have the Monday through Friday, 9 to 5 work schedule and we’re more than happy with that. For example, in 2012, Alex actually worked from a barely drivable Fiat while racing across Europe to Mongolia. We’ve worked from fishing boats in Vietnam and just this past summer, the entire San Francisco-based team moved to Japan to do research and development on launching our brand there. This is why we love it. We are on a path that we created, and now we walk down it with other passionate and creative people who all want to succeed.

I am a lucky woman. I went after my dream and found a partner who not only believes in me, but believes in our vision for a better future. We will continue working nights and weekends and continue recruiting the most creative, innovative minds to take the journey with us. We know how fortunate we are to be living in a place that makes opportunities like this possible. And what makes us even more excited is that our young daughter will be able to grow up in a place where she, too, can follow her dreams.

This piece first appeared on Medium and is republished here with permission.

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