Going Global: Mexican-American woman goes from migrant farm work - WSIL-TV 3 Southern Illinois

Going Global: Mexican-American woman goes from migrant farm worker to business owner

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CARBONDALE, Ill. -- In this week's episode of Going Global, we meet a Mexican-American woman who went from being a migrant farm worker in Cobden to running a business in Carbondale. 

Inside Dona Camila Mexican Grocery Store, you'll find everything from spices to pinatas, tortillas, religious candles, and lucas, a popular candy made with chili.

Irma Thomas, manages Dona Camila, which is named after her grandma. Thomas, originally from Cherán Michoacán, Mexico, came to the United States in 1980, barely speaking any English. 

"Because whenever I was in Mexico, I'm the type of person, we barely have enough food at the table to survive," Thomas said.

Thomas remembers eleven people sharing one room in the home she grew up in. She also remembers walking around barefoot as a child because her family couldn't afford shoes.

"I decide to come cross the border, do something for my family, and I came over here to give them a better life," Thomas said.

At 24 years old, Thomas separated from most of her family and traveled through Santa Barbara then Chicago before moving to Carbondale and becoming a citizen.

"My dream was come here, work very hard and send money to Mexico so I can at least buy a house," Thomas said.

She went from picking vegetables as a migrant farm worker in Cobden to working for a local Mexican restaurant for more than 30 years. Then, she decided it was time to start her own business.

"I work very hard to be where I am, very hard," Thomas said.

In 2015, Thomas and her brother opened up Dona Camila.

"To be where I am, to have what I have, I had to sweat to have what I have," Thomas said, adding she also owns a business in Tennessee.

She hopes to pass along what she's learned to her grandchildren.

"That's what I'm trying to teach my granddaughters, how to run a business, how a business is supposed to be," Thomas said.

She's a proud mom of six children, with two sons serving in the United States military, one daughter working as a police officer and another as a dental assistant.

Thomas said anything is possible.

"I think everything is possible, whatever you want, you just gotta work for it and you can reach wherever you want," Thomas said. 

Thomas welcomes folks to swing by Dona Camila, located across the Carbondale Pavilion. The kitchen is temporarily closed and will reopen in the near future.

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