Change is always difficult. I do believe our country is going through an iteration. There is a feeling that an era is ending and a new one being birthed. The status quo is being shaken and many people do not like change — even when it’s for the better. I believe our country has gone through a reactionary period and we are witnessing its final zenith.
As a part of our series about immigrant success stories, I had the pleasure of interviewing David Hernandez, a Cuban-born first generation-immigrant, raised in New York City. He is also a professional musician and published composer who has worked and toured internationally. His credits include co-writer, co-producer, and music director for Village People, and recordings with Paul Carrack, producers John Porter, Charles Foskett, among others. He is a co-founder and managing partner of lotus823, an award-winning integrated communications and marketing agency based in Eatontown, NJ. He has previously been a TEDx speaker and is a professional musician who has worked and toured internationally. David is married and a father of three sons living in Monmouth County NJ.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I’m a first-generation Cuban born immigrant. My family and I came to the United States on the last Red Cross boat from Cuba in 1963, fleeing Fidel Castro’s regime. We settled in New York City as my father had 2 brothers living there. For most of my youth I grew up on the lower West side of Manhattan and we eventually moved to home in Northern New Jersey that my parents worked and saved enough to purchase. Regardless of our initial economic challenges, my parents worked tirelessly and ensured my sisters and I went private school, believing education would give us options and a better life.
Despite being poor, I never wanted for anything or felt I was missing something. I do remember how close-knit we were and having lots of family gatherings with uncles, aunts, and cousins. Our home was regularly filled with relatives, laughter, food, dancing, and more laughter.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
Once Castro took power, my parents’ world, their retail business, and our home changed drastically. It was common for the militia to take my father’s car overnight and return it the next day, dirty, with empty liquor bottles in the back. My parents’ stores were no longer theirs and instead became government property. It became clear that the life we had was over and my parents began to worry for our safety. We left with only a little more than 2 changes of clothes and a pair of shoes.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
I was just 3 years old, but I know through the retelling of my sisters that as we left town, some people were laughing and making fun of us and some saying worse like we were traitors. We had to wait in the sun and heat for several hours as they checked us off and let us board. When I was older, I learned my mother was worried because I had not had any water in hours as they did not give out anything until we were on the Red Cross boat. My sisters were older, and it was both an initial shock and a long term trauma for both of them.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
My family and I are forever grateful to my father’s 2 brothers, my uncles. One lived in the building next to us and the other in Queens and both helped us get on our feet, including helping my parents find work.
So how are things going today?
Growing up as an immigrant gives me a unique perspective on being American. I grew up with a dual identity and a fierce desire to achieve my version of the American Dream; owning my own company and raising my family here. I am pleased to share that along with my spouse and co-founder, Allison, we have built an award-winning successful agency in New Jersey with an incredible group of marketing creatives and a wide spectrum of clients including several household brands. I feel humbled and blessed to have been able to build this dream and get to work with some truly amazing people.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Giving to our local Food Bank several times per year is important to me as I believe no one should ever go hungry. In addition, as a company, we volunteer for a day at our local food bank every year.
You have first-hand experience with the US immigration system. If you had the power, which three things would you change to improve the system?
- There needs to be a more humane system to detain immigrants trying to enter America seeking a better life for themselves and their families.
- Our immigration policies should reflect the spirit of inclusion that our country stands for. It is this very cultural ‘salad’ that has made us a leading country in so many areas, from science and technology to the fine arts.
- We should complete the overhaul of our immigration system including all processes and create a clear path for all immigrants to achieve citizenship.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
There is no substitute for plain hard work. Much of what I achieved was first and foremost built on the mindset of never, ever giving up. When I was trying to succeed as a musician I always carried a ‘demo’ of my music in my pocket at work in case I was to meet someone who could help me and, in fact, I met the producer that would eventually hire me to work in London on songs and production which led to eventually working with Village People.
Find your passion and pursue it with all your energy and heart. Your dream needs to be built on true passion as there will be many obstacles and challenges in order to achieve success. When I decided to start my own company, I worked day and night on it. Endless phone calls, emails, and in-person pitch meetings to land our first few clients that helped us build the company we now have.
Flexibility. Have a vision but also know that your vision may evolve as you work to make it real. When we first started, we never envisioned how much our services would involve and how many new services we would add on. That came as a result of staying in a ‘student of your business’ mindset.
Hire the best people. The success I have enjoyed is directly tied to surrounding myself with an incredible team. Our agency has won numerous awards over the past decade based on case studies across communications and digital marketing, in every case those awards are a direct result of our team’s work. Yes, it is through my relationships and network that we landed the client, but it’s our team’s passion and acumen that keeps them and brings accolades to our brand.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- Change is always difficult. I do believe our country is going through an iteration. There is a feeling that an era is ending and a new one being birthed. The status quo is being shaken and many people do not like change — even when it’s for the better. I believe our country has gone through a reactionary period and we are witnessing its final zenith.
- Our youth. Millennials and Gen Z give me hope of a better, more inclusive America where each individual has a voice and a place. I see it in my small piece of the world in children, young adults, both in my family and in my company, and I hear it in their music and see it in their art.
- The organized protests of BLM that has sparked a global movement. As unsettling or disruptive as protest can seem, they have brought to light truths about our country that have laid unaddressed for too long. The intersection of events that led to the movement in 2020 cannot be undone just as their voices will not go unheard any longer.
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. 🙂
Bruce Springsteen. As a songwriter and musician, he has influenced and impacted my view of relationships, my sense of social responsibility, and my view of my own identity as it relates to my loved ones and community.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us