Your capacity to creating wealth is mainly limited by what you know or don’t know. Thus, it is imperative that you educate yourself. Education is the get equalizer. Education is accessible to most in America.
Is the American Dream still alive? If you speak to many of the immigrants we spoke to, who came to this country with nothing but grit, resilience, and a dream, they will tell you that it certainly is still alive.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chau Lai.
Chau Lai established her Wealth Management business in June 1997. Since then, she has enjoyed working with accomplished business owners and executives to create a legacy and protect wealth for future generations. Her progressive mindset and strong work ethic provide focus and direction for her clients to accomplish their financial goals with an emphasis on life wellness and balance.
Real-world experiences and early childhood struggles taught Chau important lessons regarding building and preserving wealth. They inspired her to craft her own unique investing methodology. Chau helps her clients to find their true purpose for money and to redefine the meaning of success and wealth.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
When I was just two years old, my family fled Vietnam in pursuit of a better life. I grew up in San Diego. We lived in City Heights when we first arrived in San Diego in 1980. City Heights was and still is a low-income neighborhood. Most immigrant families start in City Heights and work/build their way out into better neighborhoods. We moved almost every other year as my parents made more money and became more successful in their business ventures. We moved to bigger houses and better neighborhoods.
My parents worked at low paying labor jobs in the first 5 years of living in San Diego. My mom worked in a clothing factory. She sewed garments in an assembly line. She was paid nickels, dimes, and quarters per piece of garment she sewed. The faster she sewed, the more money she made. She saved almost everything that she earned and bought the factory after only fives years.
We arrived with no money. My parents didn’t speak English. I grew up watching my parents build their wealth from nothing. From the outside, it appeared that we were living the American Dream. On the inside, they lived in fear and scarcity. They’d escaped a communist, war-torn country in which everything they owned was confiscated by the government. No matter how much money they made, it was not enough for them to feel safe and successful.
They fought about money. The more money they made, the more they fought. Their fights were violent. Thus, as a child I witnessed what money can give you and what money can take from you when you don’t know what your true purpose for money is and when you don’t deal with your money demons.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
I was born in a small fishing village in the southernmost part of Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. It was one of the poorest parts of Vietnam. The Viet Congs confiscated everything we owned. My mom started a black market in her village. She sold the government rations (of rice, fabric, canned food, spices, etc). She saved almost all her earnings to buy our way onto a fishing boat. That’s how we fled in the middle of the night without being detected by the Viet Congs. We floated out to sea for over a week. Pirates took our belongings. We had no food or water left after the second group of pirates raided our small boat and left us to drift in the sea for dead. By the grace of God, we were picked up by a U.S. Navy ship that took us to a refugee camp in Malaysia. We lived in the refugee camp for two years before my mom was able to locate her younger brother who escaped a few years before us. He lived in San Diego. He sponsored us from San Diego. That’s why we came to San Diego. I often say that I won the refugee lotto because we ended up in San Diego.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
Fortunately, I do not remember details about our life in the fishing village in Vietnam, drifting on the boat, or living in the refugee camp. I was 2 years old, and my brother was a 1 year-old when we fled. I do remember images of lots of water (the sea), a large gray mass (when were floating next to a U.S. Navy ship), and rats the size of cats (refugee camp was filthy).
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
My mom got us out of Vietnam and out of the ghetto of San Diego. If she wasn’t so driven, determined, and resourceful, I may still be living in a fishing village in Vietnam today.
So how are things going today?
I’ve been on my own since I was 16 years old. I left my parent’s violent and abusive house when I was 16 and never went back. God has protected and provided for me through many dark and scary times.
I now live a very blessed life. I am happily engaged to a God-honoring man who faithfully served in the U.S. Navy for 24 years. I own a successful wealth management firm that I started when I was 21 years old, straight out of college. I’m on tack to retire in five years at the age of 49. I live in one of the most desirable communities in San Diego. Most importantly, I am grounded in my faith and clear about what my true purpose for money is. I live an abundant and wealthy life that is not defined solely by worldly possessions. I’ve dealt with my childhood wounds and money demons.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I use the pain of my childhood and the life lessons I learned to help my clients to define their true purpose for money, deal with their money demons, and define what wealth personally means to them.
I mentor high school and college students from low-income families to become first generation college students. Many were neglected, abandoned, or abused. I also volunteer at the San Diego Rescue Mission (a homeless shelter) because one of my biggest fears when I left at age 16 was becoming homeless (which I never was). I also coach an after school self-empowerment running program for pre-teen girls. These are just a few of the volunteer roles I enjoy.
You have first-hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you suggest to improve the system?
- Establish a mentorship program so that successful and established immigrants can help and inspire new immigrants
- Offer immigrants assistance in learning English
- Provide psychological and career counseling
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- Embrace English- My mom did not allow my brother and me to speak Vietnamese when we started going to school. She forced us to speak English at home when we started school so that we could practice, and she could learn too. That accelerated our language development and helped us to not fall behind in school. It’s also why I was able to speak fluent English within a couple years of arriving to America.
- Don’t embrace the consumerism culture- The American Dream is not about having material wealth. It’s about having options and the freedom to dream and pursue your dreams. However, it’s easy to be distracted by the materialism and consumerism that is marketed in commercials, movies, TV, radio, internet, etc. It’s easy to fall into the “keeping up with The Joneses” and get stuck in the rat race (live paycheck to paycheck) if you don’t have clear goals and purpose for money.
- Invest in yourself- Your capacity to creating wealth is mainly limited by what you know or don’t know. Thus, it is imperative that you educate yourself. Education is the get equalizer. Education is accessible to most in America.
- Seek out mentors- Knowledge and wisdom are hard earned. By developing relationships with people who have accomplished what you want to accomplish, you can benefit from their knowledge and wisdom with the painful lessons they may have experienced to acquire that wisdom and knowledge. This will shorten your learning curve. This may also give you access to their networks for assistance in the future.
- Live below your net income- When you live below your net income, you have excess to invest in developing yourself. You also have excess to grow financial assets which will help you to have financial freedom.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- We are free to pursue happiness
- We have the freedom to imagine, invent, and innovative
- We have the right to personally own property, businesses, and other assets
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
I would love to have a private meal with Oprah. Her life story is extraordinarily inspiring to me. She rose above poverty, abuse, neglect, prejudice, sexism, and racism. She is the embodiment of the American Dream.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
CA Insurance License #0C08038 Registered Representative and Financial Advisor of Park Avenue Securities LLC (PAS), 333 N Indian Hill Blvd., Claremont, CA 91711 Ph: 909–399–1100 Securities products/services and advisory services are offered through PAS, a registered broker/dealer, and investment advisor. Financial Representative, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America (Guardian), New York, NY. PAS is a wholly owned subsidiary of The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America® (Guardian), New York, NY. Pacific Advisors, Inc. is not an affiliate or subsidiary of PAS or Guardian. Insurance Products offered through Pacific Regional Insurance Services, a DBA of Pacific Advisors, Inc. Pacific Advisors, Inc. is not an independent Registered Investment Advisor. PAS is a member of FINRA, SIPC
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!