Why immigrants start their own businesses?

Jun 29, 2021

As a privileged immigrant who has been able to afford a US education, I have been afforded many opportunities despite my hardship.  It’s also important to mention that my experience does not equate to everyone else’s because immigrants are far from being a monolith.

People migrate from many different countries for many different reasons. We have rich and diverse cultural upbringings, a wide range of socio-economic background, grew up in different political stability and instability, born with different skin colors and much more.

This creates an experience that is different for each one of us that sometimes I find it really hard or tedious to explain to US citizens. This is important for me to share because I currently live in the United States of America. And if the spaces I am in have no understanding of how it feels to be an immigrant of color, it causes me to code switch.

Code Switching is a linguistic term that is defined as the practice of alternating between two or more languages or varieties of language in conversation. Something that a lot of Singaporeans and Malaysians do growing up because we were born in a country where we experienced many different cultures but rarely get a chance to really be who we are.

Because of that, Singapore and Malaysia have a culture of ‘working hard’ so you can prove that you are beyond the stigma that surrounds your race and you can create a better life.

I think that practice of code-switching as a Malay Singaporean was fertile ground for how I showed up in my previous places of employment in the United States which includes yoga studios. I often found myself needing to prove that I am the right person for the position which led me to overwork.

This became a big stressor for me even in yoga studios because it felt like I was alone. Yoga studios were not the only place that I’ve worked in. I’ve worked in start ups and established research labs looking for a place to belong.

But I could not find a place where all of me could exist in.

So starting my own business created a space for me to exist in because those spaces do not exist. I often think about why so many immigrants become entrepreneurs and I think this is one of them. I think we create our own businesses out of necessity. If we’re going to work hard, we may as well do it for ourselves.

During this past year where I started my own business as a web designer, many opportunities have been afforded and I am very grateful for all the websites I have built, the podcast interviews, the speaking engagements, and the yoga trainings I have facilitated. Showing up as myself in my business has really helped me experience a life with a lot less code-switching and a lot more sharing and storytelling.