Eddie Mirza is a survivor of job layoffs, illness and economic upheavals, but there’s one thing he could always depend on.
His talents as an artist, teacher and soccer coach have served him well, as has the multiple languages he speaks, giving him a versatility to make a living when buffeted by misfortunes. Mirza has worked at newspapers, advertising agencies, and printing and telecommunications companies. These days, he is up on a second-floor corner of the Main Street site of the old McAllen Public Library building.
“It’s a great idea,” he said of the incubator, which is a division of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. “It gives people like me an opportunity to do what we love in serving the community.”
Laura Robles, the incubator’s coordinator, concurred on the value of the arts-oriented facility.
“They find a space to grow their businesses,” Robles said of the creatively driven entrepreneurs. “It’s a passion for them.”
Finding A Way
In 2016, Mirza found his unemployment and severance package funds running thin.
He had been laid off by AT&T’s print and phone book division. He avidly searched for a new job. Mirza kept coming up short after gaining many interviews, as he suspected his age was being held against him. He decided taking part of his 401K and using it to start a new business was the best option available.
Mirza speaks seven languages. In the Rio Grande Valley, he would focus on teaching Spanish. He grew up in a family of chess masters and played competitively in the Caribbean and Europe, so hence, the chess academy. Mirza also had years of experience as an art director and fine artist. Teaching children and adults on how to sharpen up their drawing and painting skills was a natural thing for Mirza to do.
The final piece was coaching soccer. It’s something Mirza had done before, and he found early takers at private schools looking to start up soccer teams. The Young Masters was created with a variety of programs, on-site, at schools and for home schooling as well.
“Thanks to the talents and skills I have, I was able to survive,” Mirza said. “I never imagined I would do this but I had to do something.”
He started out on 10th and Walnut in McAllen. He would eventually find a home at the Creative Incubator where he can be among like-minded artists and teachers. Works of art line the walls of his business. Chess pieces are at the ready. It’s an environment that works well for Mirza and his wide age range of students.
Robles’ office is located right behind where the main counter of the old library was situated.
The library is long gone, having moved into a converted Walmart on North 23rd Street, leaving downtown behind. The incubator takes up the space where books were once shelved. It mostly caters to artistic endeavors like Mirza’s academy. The creative center opened in 2005, and has seen its operations and efforts grow with McAllen developing its arts scene.
The incubator started with 12 studios. It has 25 today. Robles said lessons in painting, sculpture, dancing, choir, photography and piano are among the offerings at the incubator. Through the chamber, the incubator offers entrepreneurs assistance in business development, planning and marketing, and with press releases to promote their events.
“This is what we wanted,” Robles said. “We wanted a good variety so people from the community could come here and learn about different mediums.”
Mirza’s Young Masters Academy is in that mix, doing its part to enlighten youths and adults in the community with expertise in its range of programs in language, arts and soccer. His business is on the mend after a difficult 2020 due to public health issues, of which affected Mirza personally as he fought off a serious COVID-19 infection and is still feeling its aftereffects.
“I feel blessed and lucky,” he said. “I’m still here and I’m back sufficiently to survive.”