Claudia Mirza came to the U.S. to reunite with her father. While she’s found success, she says immigration is painful —
and wants to prevent other people from having to make that choice.
Claudia Mirza, 44, is the co-founder of Akorbi, which has evolved from a Dallas translation company into a global provider of multilingual business services in over 170 languages. Annual revenue this year is projected to be $55 million. Mirza stands out because her story encapsulates nearly every part of the immigrant experience. Raised in the housing projects of Colombia during violent times, Mirza watched her father leave at age 4 for the United States. She dreamt of crossing the border to join him. She is now a naturalized U.S. citizen, the wife of an Indian immigrant, an employer of immigrants from multiple nations, and a success story who wants to help other women become entrepreneurs in their home countries.
–As told to Colleen DeBaise and Sue Williams. Edited for length and clarity.
My father came here because he was looking to improve his life, to get a job. I came here because my family was separated. It took me a while to get used to this country.
There is a lot of hardship for children of immigrants. I remember dreaming about how I was going to meet my father again, the hero. My heart was broken. I remember dreaming about making a hole under the ground, trying to go under the fence. I was going to cross the border to come and see my father.
Pretty much my mother and I were in absolute poverty [in Medellin, Colombia] when my father left. It took a lot of creativity for my mother and I to really make it. We just had a bag with clothes. I remember going from house to house with our bag, asking people to let us live in their homes.
When I had almost graduated from high school, my father contacted me and said, “I would like for you to come to the United States.” I said, “Well, I need to finish high school, but I would like for you to take my mother.” My mother joined my father in the United States after 13 years of being apart, and they were able to reunite.
After I graduated from technical college [in rural Colombia], I had the opportunity to work as a safety and environmental supervisor at this huge gas pipeline. I made a lot of money, believe it or not. Then, in 1996, I was able to come to the United States. My father was a United States citizen and filed for my green card. I was around 20.
When you leave your country, you leave your culture, your language, your family, all the things that are important to you, your belongings. I had two bags because I came on the plane. Whenever you are immigrating because of poverty or violence, you feel like you are not welcome in that country, and you feel defeated. I felt defeated. [But] it worked out.