Random airport happenstance is how I ended up eating Chipotle at IAD with Hugo, a thirty-nine year old El Salvadoran. Hugo was en route to Houston to visit his dad for Father’s Day, but a missed flight left him on standby for my 8:30 plane.
Turns out Hugo has a pretty amazing story. One with all the elements of your “typical” pursuing the American Dream narrative: resourcefulness, gumption, resolve, stick-to-itiveness, to name a few.
But what struck me the most was the tremendous motivation he felt to provide a better future for his family. As the daughter of first generation immigrants, I admit it’s easy to forget everything my parents risked and sacrificed for the two unappreciative creatures my brother and I can be. Talking with Hugo was a much-needed reminder of their leap of faith.
The youngest of six siblings, Hugo studied chemical engineering and spent fourteen years with Unilever in San Salvador, working his way up to regional HR manager. His father, who had emigrated years before, eventually persuaded him to come to the States.
“I really didn’t want to leave,” Hugo remembers. “We were living comfortably in El Salvador. But my dad, he helped me see there could be better things in store in the US.” So at the age of thirty-three he started over again, working shifts at McDonald’s for his first stateside job. He went back to school, earning his MBA in marketing.
The decision to leave your native country, and all that is familiar, has to be one of the most daunting things in the world. As Americans, we encounter reminders home wherever we travel. Antarctica is probably the only continent where you won’t find Coke products or Katy Perry blasting on the radio, and even then I’m not positive. What must it be like to venture thousands of miles from home to a place where everything is foreign?
Today Hugo manages client relationships for a manufacturer of uninterrupted power supply (UPS) units. UPS systems run off of batteries or solar panels, and are used primarily in developing countries where power outages are common.
Hugo pulls out his phone and opens the weather app, flicking through favorited cities until he finds Lahore, Pakistan. The forecasted high is 108 degrees Fahrenheit. “Can you imagine a blackout that lasts up to eight or nine hours in that heat?” he asks, shaking his head.
Given the international nature of the job, Hugo spends a lot of time on the road. He recently traveled to Qingdao, China where the company has plans to build a new factory. But his favorite trips are the four occasions a year when he makes it back to El Salvador to visit his wife and four children.
His oldest, a sixteen year old son, has aspirations of becoming an aeronautical engineer. “He’s learning English, Spanish, French, and German,” Hugo proudly ticks off on his fingers. “He has always been either number one or number two in his school.”
That’s not to say his kids don’t keep him up at night. “He is too easily distracted, first this girl, next second another one,” Hugo confides. “At your age, you have a sense for people, for who to keep and who to let go. My son does not have that yet.” (The assessment of my character judging abilities makes me smile).
“Now you see why I can’t stop,” he chuckles. “There is always something to keep me busy, if not at work then back home.”
Hugo ended up making it aboard the flight to Houston. “I think you were my good luck charm,” he says with a parting hug.