Laid-off GE worker opens
her own gift shop that include Mexican folk arts,
By LYRYSA SMITH,
First published: Monday, August
way Yamila Mustafa sees it, getting laid off from her dream
job gave her the opportunity to make another dream come true.
She climbed the giant American corporate ladder for almost
10 years. Now she's at the top of her own little Mexican
Mustafa, who is Mexican, was working in General Electric's
Waterford office as the commercial finance analyst for the
Latin America region when she was laid off a year ago. Now she
owns Mexican Beauty, a gift shop selling Mexican folk art and
crafts in Clifton Park. It opened at the beginning of the
"Everyone always said I had the nicest office in the whole
GE plant and it was decorated with all these things from
Mexico," says Mustafa, sweeping her hand at the earthenware
pottery, gleaming pewter, intricate tin mirrors and brilliant
talavera ceramics in her store. "This idea was in the back of
my mind once GE starting cutting back. I realized that even
with my combination of skills, no person is that important at
the end of the day to such a big corporation. I thought, 'I'm
Mexican, they probably want to send me back.' "
Her last day was Sept. 19, one week after the terrorist
attacks of Sept. 11. Mustafa hunted for jobs all over the
country, but with the economy in a tailspin, she had no luck.
"Finally, I tell myself, 'You are Mexican and bilingual.
You have finance and business experience, including starting
up a small business and import-export. You love the art of
Mexico and love to share it, and it's not available in upstate
New York,' " recalls Mustafa, 35. "So, I went home (to
Tampico, Mexico), met with suppliers, checked out merchandise
and decided to do it."
The perfect mix of brains, background and Latina chutzpah
led Mustafa, step by step, to Mexican Beauty.
By the age of 15, Mustafa went to work in the morning and
school in the afternoon to help her parents pay for education
"My parents had this great vision to have all their kids
speak English," says Mustafa, who is one of six children. All
of them attended a private English-speaking school in Tampico,
from kindergarten through 12th grade. "My parents are not
wealthy, though, and the school is very expensive."
In college, Mustafa majored in finance and worked as an
accountant's assistant and then as the comptroller of a small
family-owned computer business. In graduate school, Mustafa
was the store manager of Mailboxes, Etc. in Tampico and got
her first taste of international trade.
Mustafa began working with General Electric Plastics in
Tampico as an import-export specialist soon after she earned
her MBA from the University of Tamaulipas in 1992.
It had never crossed her mind to leave Tampico, where she
still lived with her family, but two years later, Mustafa
arrived at the GE offices in Waterford to interview for the
position of customer service specialist for the entire Latin
"There was tons of snow. So much snow," Mustafa says,
shaking her head in disbelief. "I didn't know if I'd get the
job. When I got the call three weeks later, I was really
happy. I was psyched."
Her mother had a different reaction.
"Mom was furious. 'What?! What are you going to do? You
don't know anybody there. It's so far away. All your friends
and family are here. You've lived here your whole life. Why go
there?' " Mustafa exclaims, mimicking her mother's
intensity. "Fortunately, my father was instantly supportive."
After weeks of convincing her mother that the job was an
important step for her career, Mustafa had 11th-hour doubts
about being the first family member to move to the United
"It didn't strike me until the night before, lying in my
bed. I was all packed and had my one-way ticket to Albany, and
I thought, 'What am I doing?' I knew it was too late to go
back. I cried all night," says Mustafa, her huge eyes filling
with tears with the memory of saying goodbye to her family.
GE employees helped her acclimate to the Capital Region and
made her transition easy, says Mustafa. She got an apartment
in Clifton Park, loved her new job right away and made new
friends quickly -- all of which made her layoff, seven years
later, very difficult.
Once Mustafa decided to open her gift shop, the months of
preparation, paperwork and hard work of unpacking hundreds of
delicate items came easy. She plans to make three or four
buying trips to Mexico annually.
History and legends
Today, Mexican Beauty is filled with products that
represent dozens of artisans from many of the diverse regions
and states of Mexico. Mustafa knows the history, legends and
meanings behind the art and crafts. The store's name, its logo
of papel picado (a punched paper decoration) and even the
colors Mustafa selected for her business card represent the
warmth and friendship of Mexico. They also reflect her
innovation and pride.
"The idea is to bring new things in all the time so people
can see new art each time they come," says Mustafa. "I have a
lot of work to do, but I'm excited and I love doing this. It
reconnects me to Mexico and I get to share my culture with
this part of New York state. This is my new home, and I want
to share my homeland with people here."
Mustafa says being self-employed is challenging and not
getting a steady paycheck is scary. But even on slow days,
when few people find Mexican Beauty on Route 9, Mustafa is
full of faith.
"Las cosas sucedan algo," she says, exuding confidence.
"Things happen for a reason."
To suggest a person for this feature, drop a note to: A
Day's Work, Features Department, Times Union, P.O. Box 15000,
Albany, NY 12212 or e-mail to email@example.com.
Where: 1733 Route 9, D&G Village, Clifton Park
Hours: Open daily
Info: 373-3450 and http://www.mexicanbeautygiftshop.com