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The American Dream

Richard Lopez, Staff Writer

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This story was originally composed in May 2017 as the writer’s final project of the academic year.    

Genesis

It’s a whole new world.

Much different from the smaller, jungle world you and your partner left. The houses here stand as tall as the skyscrapers back home. You couldn’t imagine what the skyscrapers here will look like. And the people? Giants compared to your own family. They seem to stand at least 10 feet tall with hands the size of boulders and trunks as thick as a redwood tree. You think it best not to cause any sort of trouble with these folks.

Undersupplied and alone, save for your partner, in this new world, it appears that you may not survive on this new continent. Your only saving grace is the promise of a good job at a reputable company, the exact reason why you came to this foreign land. What are you going to do? How will you live in this new setting? Will you adapt or die?

This situation was exactly what Felix and Rosalina Lopez were in decades ago when they immigrated to this country. However, little did they know that with their superb educational background, they had the know-how to face any impossible scenario and emerge on the other side victorious.  In fact their skills and tenacity would come in handy in a future crisis.

Each a master of their craft in their own right, Felix and Rosalina were well respected and known by many in their homeland of the Philippines.. They were the big fish in the small pond. As one of the best from her graduating class, Rosalina immediately got a job as an accountant at the AIU or the American Insurance Underwriters, which was the regional office of AIG, or the American International Group, in Asia. Some time after, she started her own clothing store after quitting her job with the AIU. Self-employment was rare at the time in the Philippines.

Fierce competition in the Philippines made employment immediately after tertiary education almost impossible. The valedictorian, graduating magna cum laude from the class of 1978, Felix’s superb education lead to his being hired as an Executive Assistant at one of the top reinsurance groups in the Philippines. However, he only held this position for a short time as he quickly became the Vice President of marketing.

From that point on, he never saw a shortage of promotions and transfers as he became Vice President of Intercontinental Insurance and, after 2 years, was transferred to Commonwealth Insurance Company as the Chief Operating Officer as well as the Vice President of Operations. He stayed with that position until becoming the President at Fairway Insurance Brokers.

Due to his knowledge of reinsurance and his history of holding high positions in reinsurance, Felix thought it best to write a book on his expertise. He published the book in the Philippines which still exists in the National Library of the Philippines.

As anyone can see, compared to many of the folks in the Philippines, this couple lived a very prosperous life filled with opportunities and possibilities. What more could they possibly want?

As one of only five legendary figures of reinsurance in the Philippines, Felix was offered a job as the Vice President of Operations at the Commonwealth Insurance Company in Arizona. The Commonwealth Insurance Company was a subsidiary of one of the longest running business in the country that dated back to the Spanish colonial times in the 1800s.

Unfortunately, Rose did not have such a similar job offer and leaving with her husband would certainly mean an end to her clothing store. But, trusting in the opportunity, she accompanied her husband in their new adventures. Given a working visa by the powers that be, Felix and Rose left their homeland in July of 1991 and legally came to America to start their new life.

The Land of Opportunity

To many, America was considered the greatest country to live in. To them, America represented the Biblical Land of Milk and Honey from Ezekiel 20:6. It represents their ideal world filled with more opportunities and possibilities to lead a better life.

Despite having a working visa, Felix was not happy with his status, instead wanting to hold a green card to solidify his status in the States. After showing his working visa to the INS, in less than six months Felix finally received his green card, taking the next step to full citizenship status. The speed in which he attained the green card was due in part because of a National Interest Waiver he received from the government. The National Interest Waiver can only be attained if one has exceptional ability or a pro athlete with superb talent. Of course, as the accompanying spouse, Rosalina was also given a green card.

To many immigrating here, achieving green card status or even obtaining a working visa, takes a long time. However, due to Felix’s ability and impressive work in his field, the company that recruited him sponsored the couple, allowing them to quickly receive the working visa and the green card. But of course, life comes with its set of difficulties and hardships because as Rocky Balboa said, “life is not all sunshine and rainbows.”

Forsaken

Six months after their arrival in America, chaos consumed the world. A massive recession devastated the major world economies.

Many thought the quick economic recovery from an earlier 1987 recession would mean that the people did not have to worry about another recession. However this false sense of security served only as an illusion as the economy once again fell into another recession in the early 90s.

This economic collapse forced many companies, such as the one that recruited and sponsored Felix, to close shop, leaving both Felix and Rose to fend for themselves in this cruel world of Arizona. Employment opportunities were scarce in those days as the recession caused unemployment rates to skyrocket and even with employment, the minimum hourly rate stayed at a meager $4.25/hr.

With nothing left for them and nothing to return to in the Philippines, Felix and Rose had to come up with a plan to survive. They contacted one of their friends back in the Philippines who told them that one of their former officemates from 10 years ago lived in California and may be able to help.

They were fighting an uphill battle, with only a whiff of hope. With only a possibility of a nearby ally nearby to support their well-being, they had to take a chance. This was their last shot and perhaps with luck, it would be the only shot they ever need.

A Turn for the Better

When they arrived in Diamond Bar, CA, they were welcomed by Felix’s former co-worker. She offered to let them stay at her house until they were on their feet.

While shopping one day for groceries, Felix ran into one of his old buddies from college, who happened to be an attorney in California. After a bit of small talk, Felix’s friend agreed to help Felix get a job.

With a bit of luck and poking around, Felix was hired as a claims assistant with a local insurance agency. On top of that, Rose was hired to work as a secretary for one of the biggest real estate offices at the time in Eagle Rock.

On April 20, 1992, their first son, Felix R. Lopez, was born. The duo not only had to think about how to get the basic necessities of life for themselves, they also had to attain these necessities for their newborn baby. Very understanding of their situation, their landlord allowed Felix and Rose to miss a few rent payments. His very generous allowance gave them extra time to scrap together enough money to provide food on the table and still gather enough rent to keep living in their studio apartment.

Southern California Crisis

Once again, tragedy struck the world and our heroes were set back. This time, the economy had nothing to do with it.

The LA riots of ‘92 caused chaos and devastation to those involved and those in the surrounding area. Over 5 days, the rioters killed, injured and damaged everything in sight.

Many buildings were burned down and more companies were forced to close. Among those was the business that hired Felix. The building he worked at was razed to the ground by the rioters, leaving him jobless, once again.

With Rose having to give up her job to take care of their newborn baby,, the new parents decided to become their own employers, eager to have control over their own lives.

The Start of A New Company

Using some of their savings, the pair studied and passed the licensing exam, which was required in order to be an insurance broker. With this new license, possibilities were endless. All they needed was a level head and a proper plan.

After passing the licensing exam for insurance, Felix and Rose started their very own home business. In those days, home business were looked down upon. Their home office only consisted of a small table, a chair, a telephone and a computer, but that was all they needed.

The business needed to be linked to an insurance company in order to make appointments and sell insurance. So he set off to contract with the smaller insurance companies around the area as well as contracting with the California Assigned Risk Program. With these companies, Felix and Rose were able to start selling insurance to the world.

As their small business began to grow, the dynamic duo decided to share a real office space with other professionals about 30 miles from their residence. While 30 miles may be quite a hike, the couple did not mind the distance as a real office setting provided them with a professional vibe to add to their company’s atmosphere.

“Now, how did they advertise their business?” some might ask. It may seem almost impossible to sell business when no one knows who you are. While a new workspace may help to bring in more clients, the workspace alone was not enough. So, Felix decided to join a few multi-level networking group to expand their corporation.

Felix joined a number of associations, such as small minority groups, which were usually social organizations. He also joined church organizations as well as other professional associations to gain access to a much wider audience who would be willing to buy auto, home or life insurance from him.

At the time, networking was not a huge force in the business world. However, our fearless leaders of the small business did not follow the mainstream and pursued goals ahead of their time.

Besides this networking, Felix and Rose handed out flyers to people as they came out of their church service. “After every service, some people they throw [away the flyer], I pick it up, give it again to the next group,” Felix said.

Things Are Looking Up

In August of 1999, Felix and Rose had their second son – yours truly, intrepid report for The Spokesman. With their business doing well, the couple did not need to worry about providing for their children.

A couple of years later, Rose decided that it was time to go return to her passion, accounting. Due to her accounting background from the Philippines, passing the accounting exam was a breeze.

Now that she was fully licensed, Rose needed a clientele base and like any smart entrepreneur, she started offering her services to those who already knew her. “I initially offered my services to our captive accounts in insurance because those are warm clients who already knew me and have worked with me with their insurance needs,” Rose said.

With her years of experience working with her husband, many of the clients already knew Rose. So, after Rose satisfied her client’s insurance needs, she asked if they needed their taxes done as well. Some said yes, some said no. However, Rose never saw a shortage of customers as referrals and relatives of her clients consistently brought her business.

With time, Rose’s newfound business began to grow.. “In 2004, my business has expanded so quickly I needed to create my own space,” Rose explained. “I established an office branch in Carson with the intention of offering insurance, accounting, and tax preparation services under one roof.”

Around the same time, our illustrious heroine, Rose, received a call from the IRS asking for her expertise. As we mentioned before earlier in the article, Rose graduated as one of the best students in her class.

From 2002-2004, Rose worked as a member of the IRS SPEC (Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication) as well as with the TCE ( Tax Counseling for the Elderly) . Eventually she was asked to be instructor at a number of institutions such as Long Beach Poly to teach the art of accounting.

She stayed with the IRS until she eventually came to realize she needed to spend more time with her family so as to not miss her children grow up. So in 2006, Rose – my mother – left the IRS.

All The Pieces Are Finally Together

Despite the financial crisis of 2008, both businesses of our heroes managed to stand firm. In fact, our heroine opened another branch in Norwalk and Artesia. However due to circumstances, my mother closed down both the Norwalk and Carson offices. In 2011, she only had one office so that she could be close to her husband’s office, which was literally a 2 minute walk away, and focus on her children’s growth without losing control of her business.

For over 16 years, both business have survived through thick and thin thanks to the resilience of our heroes. Without their education and determination, I would not have been born and my family would  not be where we are today.

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The American Dream