Aileen Avikova Of Enchanted Fairies: I Am Living Proof Of The American Dream
… Fourth is to have a lack of ego. Humility and kindness go a long way to getting ahead in the world and I think it is vastly overlooked as one of the most important soft skills all achievers have. There’s been numerous moments in my life where humility made the difference when someone considered helping me. If we can all agree that no one likes a rude person, we can all accede that people want to help kind people.
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 Aileen Avikova.
Aileen Avikova is the COO and Founder of Enchanted Fairies Magical Fine Art Portraiture — an immersive photography studio where children dress up in costumes, have a wild adventure and create heirloom portraits.
Aileen was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. She emigrated to the US at 8 years old and has gone from being homeless to now running a successful eight-figure business. Aileen started the company as a family business with her husband and brother, and it has been growing rapidly since the start of the pandemic with 1 studio in March 2020. Enchanted Fairies now has 10 studios across the US with plans on more locations in 2022. The company is also dedicated to the mission of raising money for children’s charities and enriching children’s lives. For more info visit https://enchanted-fairies.com/.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. My father Miguel was a ﬁlmmaker, inventor and entrepreneur. My mother Laura was a homemaker. I am grateful for the early memories of my hometown. Everything from the music, the novels, the food, the architecture, the museums, the traditions, the way the sun would set across our bustling neighborhood alive with kids and happiness. It’s a joy to remember even the simplest things like the smell of Yerba Buena in our backyard, the way Halloween would stretch into several nights to celebrate Día de los Muertos, and the way our neighbors would all get together, on a dead end street to play Lotería from dusk into the evening. After supper, I would settle in my mothers arms as she read books by Gabriel García Márquez. I remember my early childhood being full of magical realism in that way.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell us the story?
When I was 6 years old, my father had poured years into writing a movie about the Cristero War set in 1920’s Mexico, the most devastating in our country’s history. When he got the greenlight to produce and direct the ﬁlm, he sold everything and took us with him to the United States to bring his American dream to life. Unfortunately things unravelled quickly when there were some disputes with contracts and as production came to a halt, our family was essentially out of money and displaced. Part of what my father had signed unknowingly (his English was not very good) was him forfeiting full rights to his work. My father was devastated. When we returned to Mexico it was under the premise that he would soon return to the US, but the betrayal he experienced was something that changed him forever. He became very bitter and lost purpose. We stayed in Mexico for 2 years waiting for my father to one day wake up from his tragic artist identity and move forward, but as his state worsened, he turned to drugs and alcohol. My mother realized her husband had changed and it was her turn to leap into the unknown and start a new chapter. One where she would ﬁght for her children to have a future.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
Like many immigrants, we left Mexico with no resources and no possessions but the clothes on our backs and a small box of photographs (which I now treasure more than anything). My older brother Daniel had just $12 dollars in his pocket, the only money among all of us. The ﬁrst memory I have of coming back to the US was the beautiful smell of dew upon the freshly-cut grass that morning as we drove in. I could feel the electricity of the moment. I
knew life was never going to be the same. It was intoxicating how liberating that smell was in that moment. I can remember it like it was yesterday. There were little ﬂags stuck in the beautifully manicured lawns. Grass had never been so vivid green. As beautiful as that moment remains in my memory, there’s no denying the hard reality that hit afterwards. The truth is, it’s hard to start over with no money, even when you aren’t moving to a different country. I think we can all agree, it can be uncomfortable, sometimes painful to make a big
change in our lives. My mother somehow handled it with such grace and emotional fortitude. Here was a mother of 3 that didn’t know English, she was over the age of 40, a homemaker since her 20’s, no formal education, zero job experience and yet she went out there and took any job that would come her way. Sometimes it meant she had to work 3 or 4 jobs at a time and yet, in her special mom way, she always made moments feel magical for us. Even, and especially, when we didn’t have anything.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
My mother, of course, is my greatest hero. My brother is a very close second. He was 17 when he came to America with us. And when he should’ve been worried about ﬁtting in or who his crush was, he was suddenly thrust into being a man. One day to the next, he was my father ﬁgure. A sacriﬁce my sister and I didn’t fully appreciate until we were older. Bravely he left everything he had ever known behind. He went to an American high school with no English, and would work full time to help my mom pay rent and help keep us fed. Through all of this he developed his artistic talents and focused his art to beneﬁt the greater good of those around him. My brother Daniel is to this day everything I aspire to be.
So how are things going today?
We are incredibly blessed! My brother and I went into business together and have built a company that delivers immersive magical portrait experiences to children called Enchanted Fairies. We have 10 locations across the US and are growing rapidly. By the end of next year we project to be at 30 to 40 locations. We are incredibly grateful to be able to do our work and live out our charitable mission in this beautiful country of opportunity.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
We have donated over $1 million dollars to children’s charities that help ﬁght hunger in children, help children in abusive situations ﬁnd refuge and organizations that take children with life-altering and terminal illnesses to Disney World with their families and a medical team. We are massively proud of what we have been able to do so far and look forward to donating more and more as we grow.
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?
First of all, at least for me, I don’t think any list to change the immigration process can start without addressing the heartbreaking images we’ve all seen of children in cages. Plainly stated, I don’t think the government should have dominion over breaking up families or separating young children from their parents as consequence for wanting a better future. My heart simply breaks.
Second, I would create a path to citizenship for people living here already that are active contributors to our tax system. There were many times I would be scared to come home wondering if my family would be there when I would arrive. The constant fear of my family or myself being deported was all consuming. Had that ever present dread not been so front and center in my life, I think I would’ve had a clearer head to focus on the future and my place in it.
Thirdly, I would incentivize those motivated to give back to their communities by offering a rapid route to citizenship and grant opportunities to fund their ideas to better our American landscape.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
I will start my 5 keys with the 2 most profound rules my mother shared with us when we ﬁrst arrived in America.
She understood her children were about to enter a society in which there was a stereotype about Mexican immigrants, you know the one, “Mexicans come here to take our jobs”.
So her ﬁrst rule was: We are here to be givers, not takers. We will always do more than what’s asked. The power of these words meant we went out into the world everyday asking how we could help our fellow man, and how we can offer our help in a way that will impact the most people. In the face of those stereotypes it sure is great to be a job creator.
She also wanted us to know we came to America to thrive, not just to survive. She instilled in us that we came here to excel, so her second rule was: In order to be excellent, we must do what others won’t. That meant washing ﬂoors, scrubbing toilets, doing what we could, overdelivering and showing we had grit, determination and value far beyond our current paygrade. This was a lesson that paid off for me personally time and time again when those above me would recognize a drive to always do more. Now when I see olympians like Michael Phelps or champions like Tom Brady echoing my mother’s words, I remind her how grateful I am to have had these two tenets be the mantra of my life.
My third key to achieving the American dream would be resourcefulness. I over communicate this concept to my kids any time I can. Resourcefulness is always the answer. You know, it’s easy for immigrants to fall into a victim mentality, feel like it is us against them, and feel powerless. Unfortunately, when you indulge in those feelings, the emotions compound, they take over your subconscious and blind you to what you can use to level up. It would’ve been easy for my brother at 17 to simply throw his hands up and say, “I am 17, its not fair” or my mother to think to herself “how can I get a job when I have no skills, I can’t even speak the language?”. Had both of these people indulged that, our family wouldn’t be where we are today, and we could not be impacting others in the way we are.
Fourth is to have a lack of ego. Humility and kindness go a long way to getting ahead in the world and I think it is vastly overlooked as one of the most important soft skills all achievers have. There’s been numerous moments in my life where humility made the difference when someone considered helping me. If we can all agree that no one likes a rude person, we can all accede that people want to help kind people.
Fifth, and probably most important, is to understand that almost all success in anything means being so determined to your goal that you are willing to accept months and even years of incremental gains for the payoff of creating a legacy you can be proud of and you can hand down to your children. Part of that also means enjoying the journey. If you can feel great about what you’re doing and do it day in and day out, then that’s the real prize of being in this country.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
I am outrageously optimistic. Our young generation has shown themselves to be increasingly entrepreneurial, resourceful and interested in making the world a better place by solving problems head on. The level of emotional intelligence, communication and emphasis on transparency is also such a breath of fresh air. Thirdly, I see a generation that is willing to put in an overabundant amount of work towards their goals. These are all things my company culture lives, eats and breathes as core values. Having this kind of goal alignment is the kind of paradigm shift that will move us from divisiveness to unity.
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. :-)
Chris Evans. I think what he is doing with Mark Kassen and Joe Kiani with A Starting Point is sorely needed. Our country can not move into the future as a leader in democracy if our “We the people” are not informed and shuttering ourselves to bipartisan conversation. Plus I know the original Captain America is retired but it would be great to have any Avenger (I heard he knows a few) to meet up with some of the amazing kids we get to meet through the charities we donate to, so I’d give up my breakfast or lunch gladly to be able to provide that to a few lucky kids.
What is the best way our readers can further follow your work online?
These days, I am solely dedicated to growing Enchanted Fairies and its mission to positively impact children. This means over delivering for our clients a world-class magical experience, providing heirloom-grade products to preserve their family history and continuing to donate to charities in need. You can ﬁnd Enchanted Fairies on Facebook, IG, TikTok, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
Thank you for having me!