Sometimes we can’t see the forest for the trees. Many Americans complain of a lack of opportunity in this country, while newcomers to the States say the complete opposite.
That’s how Alain Tamo and his wife, Kazanta, feel. Natives of Cameroon, West Africa, the Tamos came to America 10 years ago with an open mind and a big heart. “The United States is a great country, but it is hard for some of the people who were born here to see the type of opportunities that this country offers,” Tamo said. He added that many of his American friends may not readily see the opportunities he sees. They are there, he says, “It’s just a matter of deciding and choosing the right one.”
|IN BUSINESS—Alain Tamo says he sees the great opportunities this country has to offer.
Tamo made a choice to serve others through the talent and love he has for electronics and computer repair. In his Laptops, ETC., store located on Penn Avenue in East Liberty, Tamo sells, upgrades and repairs laptop and desktop computers. The store has been open since February. The “etc.” portion of the store involves cell phone service. As an authorized Cricket Wireless Service Center, Tamo offers Cricket service and payment center as well as cell phone sales. Additionally, he carries computer accessories, can assist with building websites, pages, hosting, and network installations.
A man of many talents, electronics was not his first career path. He holds a master’s degree in legal studies, and has worked with mentally challenged individuals helping them secure employment, but his hobby and heart remain with electronics and fixing computers, as well as learning various software programs. However, he does hope to pursue a law degree practicing immigration law.
It may seem like a cliché, but Tamo says he likes to help people. He says he has a genuine interest in people and enjoys helping them. Those characteristics led him to vocational assistance for the mentally challenged and have followed him into his computer business. “I want to serve those who are in need. People have computers and need to get them fixed. Not everyone has the means to pay the huge prices that big chains might charge to fix a computer,” he said. This notion of being there for people also influenced the store’s location. “We choose the East Liberty area so that we could be accessible to the community,” Tamo said.
So far business has been good. He has about 400 regular customers. And he doesn’t “take customers to the cleaners.” For $55 he can do a virus/spyware search and optimization of the computer, installing a complete virus protection program. He offers keyboard replacement, and other repairs.
“If a computer is totaled, then it’s totaled and there’s nothing we can do. But if it just needs a keyboard, then we can replace just the keyboard. We can get that for little cost and we extend that savings on to the customer,” Tamo said. His motto is “We try hard to repair for less.”
Not being born in this country, Tamo feels he has a fresher view of the dynamics of our society. “Some of the things we as newcomers to the U.S. notice is that people here love to categorize others. There are so many stereotypes, a reverse prejudice,” he said. To this end, Tamo founded Africa Quest, (http://www.africaquest.org/index2.html) an organization that encourages people of African descent to stay connected to their heritage. “It’s also a way to teach African culture to others. I use this as a way to dispel some of the stereotypes and misconceptions of people from Africa,” he adds. The organization started a year ago, and has hosted various cultural activities and will be organizing pilgrimages to Africa. Last February they hosted an African buffet where participants had the opportunity to taste many dishes from various African cultures.
The fact that foreigners can come to this country and become entrepreneurs speaks to the opportunities that many here in the United States may take for granted, Tamo said. “You can start venues on your own but there also are many resources to help you.” He encourages potential business owners to be resourceful and look for ways to get help when needed.
While Tamo sees America as a land of opportunity, he does caution about risks and precautions when it comes to starting a business. Tamo and his wife began Laptops, ETC. with their own money. They didn’t want to start out with a big debt. “It wasn’t easy. We started this right at the height of the financial crisis and in the winter season,” he said. “We don’t have that much, but at least we are here.”
With a university professor for a father, Tamo was expected to become a doctor or lawyer or develop another lucrative career. Against his parents advice, he sought career paths that he found interesting and personally pleasing. “If left up to my parents, I’d be a doctor making the money, having the prestige and having my parents smiling upon me, but I wouldn’t like what I was doing.” He said he may not have a lawyer or doctor salary, but “I love what I do, and that’s what it’s about.”