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Through the hardship, Rivas grateful for the gift of life

Miguel Rivas, owner of MetroPCS, checks out one of his new smartphones. (Karl Evers-Hillstrom / The Globe)1 / 6
(Karl Evers-Hillstrom/The Globe)2 / 6
Rivas has owned and operated Mazzinni in downtown Worthington since 2010. (Karl Evers-Hillstrom / The Globe)3 / 6
(Karl Evers-Hillstrom/The Globe)4 / 6
Rivas shows off a sample of one of his new handbags. (Karl Evers-Hillstrom / The Globe)5 / 6
Rivas shows off a sample of one of his new handbags. (Karl Evers-Hillstrom / The Globe)6 / 6

WORTHINGTON — Long before Miguel Rivas owned and operated his own business — Mazzinni, now a MetroPCS authorized dealer — within the city of Worthington, he was just another kid trying to escape gang violence in El Salvador.

Except even in Soyapango, known as the most dangerous city in Central America, Rivas had it worse than most. His father left his mother when he was 3. Two years later, his mother left him.

At age 8, Rivas began working at a bakery — while also going to school — in order to support himself and his grandmother.

Every day along his walk to school, and the bakery, Rivas was harassed by gang members that were annoyed he hadn’t joined the local faction that ruled the neighborhood.

“I was like ‘I don’t have time for that. I’ve got to work so I can eat!’” Rivas said. “I really thought I was going to get killed because I didn’t hang out with these people.”

Rivas was trapped. Just by living in a certain area, or “colonia,” he couldn’t travel to other neighborhoods because he would be targeted by rival gangs — even though he wasn’t in a gang. His opportunities, therefore, were extremely limited.

By age 17, with his grandmother now older and more reliant, Rivas was reunited with his mother for the first time in more than a decade.

“I thought my mother was dead,” Rivas said. “She just disappeared. And back then, people were disappearing for nothing and they never found them. So when she re-appeared, I thought, ‘She was alive the whole time and she never came to help me?’”

The realization made Rivas angry. The fact that his mother — seeing Rivas struggle to support himself and his grandmother while attending high school — was quick to say she couldn’t help made him angrier.

In 1999, at age 19, Rivas decided he needed to make a change. He took his fate into his own hands, immigrating to the United States.

Initially, he landed in Salinas, Calif. But after a few months, Rivas decided it wasn’t for him. Salvadorian gangs, just like the ones he was trying to escape, were prevalent in the Bay Area city at the time.

So once again, he took a leap of faith. He walked into a gas station, picked up a large map of the United States, unfolded it and randomly pointed to a spot on it.

His finger landed on Worthington in southwest Minnesota.

Setting up shop

Rivas likes to think he is a fast learner — faster than most.

He didn’t speak any English when he left El Salvador, but quickly adopted his own learning strategy.

Any time Rivas saw anything, whether it was a fire hydrant or a pair of sneakers, he made sure to figure out what it was in English. Once Rivas knew what something was, he trained himself to think of it by its English name, rather than translate it from Spanish.

“If I took English classes, I knew it would take years to learn, but I needed to learn it in six to seven months,” Rivas said. “Everywhere I went I noticed people were not nice if you didn’t know English, so I wanted to learn as fast as possible.”

Technology, like English, was another area at which Rivas was a quick learner. But technology, unlike English, always came naturally.

While milking cows in Nobles County, Rivas taught himself how to work with computers.

After a lot of studying, he opened Mazzinni in 2010, focusing on computer sales and repair.

However, even at that point, Rivas was already thinking about changing his business strategy, thanks to the release of the Apple iPhone.

“I knew phones would replace computers, because I saw people searching things on their phones, even when it was on tiny little screens,” Rivas said. “With smartphones, it made it easy.”

Rivas became a MetroPCS authorized dealer in 2014. His business, which now focuses on offering new phones and carrier plans, has grown a great deal over the last few years.

Despite coming from nothing, Rivas is now a successful business owner. Despite knowing nobody when he first came to Worthington, the cold, windy city now feels like home — a place where he can live his life peacefully and freely.

“I’m glad I came here, because everything I know, everything I am, is because of this country,” Rivas said. “Back there, I don’t know how my life would have ended.”

Next steps

Two years ago, Rivas came to a revelation.

He decided hate — which he had long directed at his mother and father for leaving him to fend for himself — was pointless.

He forgave his mother for leaving him and for forcing him to fend for himself in dangerous conditions.

Rivas had come to the conclusion that the most important thing in life … is life itself.

“Life has positive things and negative things, and you have to enjoy whatever happens in your life,” Rivas said. “Whatever I do, I enjoy it.”

The gift of life, he decided, is more important than anything else. And he had his mother to thank for that.

“I started learning that a mother, even if she goes away, still gave you a life, and we kind of need to thank that,” Rivas said. “If not for that, I wouldn’t be here. I got the best gift … I am still alive.”

Rivas’ mother is a major motivation in his next project. He plans on releasing his own handbag line — named Mazzinni, of course — sometime this year. The new business, meant to honor and empower women, will be separate from his phone business. Now he just needs to find a location for it.

“It is a way to thank women that give us life,” Rivas said. “Because that was the missing part of my life, that we don’t really see the hard work from a woman. We don’t see how hard they work to give us life. We don’t see it that way.”

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