“This is a touchy subject… especially at this time; There are so many moving parts to the U.S. Immigration system that I do not think it is fair to say I wish this or that should change. However, under the same breath I do wish immigration and us immigrants were not used as political pawns, as this has a huge impact in the individual immigrant and their families. I would also say that one thing I love about being American is that I can institute change by using my rights to voice my opinion and my right and power to vote for someone into and out of political office. So the question is not whether I (or anyone else) has the power), but is more whether we are using it and to what extent.”
I had the pleasure of interviewing Gustavo Mayen, owner of the Law Office of Gustavo Mayen, who came to the U.S. at 10 years old, since then has been an active-duty Marine veteran that deployed twice to Iraq. He is now a lawyer that practices litigation and just recently started helping out with legal veteran benefits appeals in the Boston area, and recently also obtained his MBA.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up in Guatemala, my parents came to the U.S. — undocumented — when I was barely a toddler. I grew up with my aunts and uncles, and my grandfathers. Although I had a good childhood, thanks to the support circle I had within my family and community, it was still tough to grow up without my parents.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
- In the meantime, while I was growing up in Guatemala, both my fathers were able to become legal residents of the U.S. and eventually were able to get both my brother and I to legally come to the U.S. This was not an easy feat at all, as both had to work many job and for many year in order to save up for both this process, proof they were productive members of society, and to be able to afford all the expenses that go into the process. Things were also different back then regarding both the laws and the process.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
- Once both my brother and I were in the U.S., everything was new to both of us, the culture, the language, the society. There was a lot of adjustment, there was a big learning curve, but eventually we were able to assimilate.
I recall flying from Guatemala straight into NYC, driving to our small apartment in NJ, and being bewildered by all the night lights, and sky-scrappers.
I also remember this experience opening my mind and my hope to once become someone, as at the time I thought I could do anything I wanted to.
Not knowing the language was tough, and it was even tougher that the kids (most Hispanic ones too) that were born in the U.S. or knew the language at the point used to make fun of us “the new kids”. But the education system in the area of NJ that I grew up — Union City — had good experience with new immigrant children, and how to assimilate us into the society.
I also made it a point to not only learn the language, but also to learn it well. So much so that I had Honor English toward the end of my High School Education (less than 10 years after coming to the U.S.).
The adversity I had to face as both an immigrant, growing up poor and in a very urban environment also gave me both the drive and perspective that allowed me to where I am today. I must note that my father had a major stroke while I was in High School, and that had a huge impact on all of us. My mother had to not only take on more responsibility, but became his primary caretaker, which she still does.
I was always taught to respect rules and do my civic duty, so in 2003, I joined the U.S. Marines. While I was in the Marines, I deployed to Iraq twice, once in 2005 and once in 2007–2008. I also got 3 years of undergraduate college while in the Marines. If I was not deployed, I was going to night school, summer school, on-line school. Anything I was able to take to further my education — I took.
Once I got out of military service, I continued my education and finished my undergraduate degree. Having much of my Gi Bill left, I decided to go to law school, which I completed in 2013.
When I graduated law school I had an opportunity to go back overseas as a civilian consultant, and decided to go back (in big part to be able to get my Marines back home). When I returned from overseas, the opportunity to open my own law office and taken on indigent client in the criminal law setting came about and I took on that challenge. I have been taking on indigent clients in the Boston area for 3 years and had accumulated a good amount of success and a good reputation as a litigation in the area.
During this time, I was given the opportunity to go a great graduate business school, which I also took advantage of, and which I recently graduated from at the end of 2017. I was able to do this while also practicing law and having my own family.
Lastly, but certainly not the least, I recently started taking on veteran legal appeals in a pro-bono (no charge to the veteran). Being a service-disable combat veteran that has gone through the VA disability process, I personally know how confusing, frustrating, and ever so long this process can take. I aim to not only make it easier for the veterans that get to the legal stage of the process, but to also let them know an enlisted fellow veteran is there for them.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
- There are many people that made the move more manageable, from my aunts and uncles I grew up with in Guatemala, to my parents, who tried their best to help us assimilate and who also worked really hard to give us what they could and to both teach us to be good citizens and good children.
There were also many teachers that worked really hard to help many of us to learn English, learn the culture, and never gave up on us. I think they are so often overseen but play a very integral part of the process.
So how are things going today?
- Things are going well. As mentioned earlier, I have been a practicing litigation attorney for the last 3 years and have doing great in that perspective. I have also recently graduated with an MBA from Babson College, which has not only open new doors and opportunities, but which has also taught me not only how to run my business properly, but has also made me be able to think more as an entrepreneur and a businessman.
I am also in the process of working through my first veteran benefits legal appeal through the Veteran Consortium Pro-Bono Program, and am working on the legal appeal of a veteran in order to try to get him the benefits he deserves.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
- Well, to begin with, I have made it a point for the last 3 years to represent indigent (low income) clients. From personal experience growing up poor and in a very urban environment, I know this segment of the community is the one that need great representation the most, and the one that often are not aware of the consequences of their actions in court. It is great to be able to guide them through it, and be able to give them their day in court, whether that means giving them a voice in front of a judge at various stages of their case or ultimately in front of a jury of their peers from the community.
- As mentioned earlier, I am also an enlisted combat veteran. I was the enlisted Marine that while on deployment was fixing up tanks, going on patrols, helping to clear an area or a house, being the 50 caliber gunner while patroling, driving the HMMVV that was rigged with extra metal doors and metal sheets underneath because in 2005 we did not yet have proper protections from IEDs, the assigned overwatch while on missions. In my later deployment I was also security detail, administrative chief, IT chief, Marine Corps Martial Arts instructor. Anything I was asked to do, I did.
All this experience and background, and having gone through a very confusing, frustrated and long process of applying for VA benefits has given me the chance to see that there is a pain point regarding veterans and their VA benefits. A fellow Marine and immigrant — who unfortunately passed away in 2006 — once told me that I should be more than just someone, but someone that makes a difference, I have never forgotten that conversation. Having the luck of being both a lawyer and an entrepreneur has allowed me to find ways to help out. I have started doing this by taking on veteran legal appeals at this time and am in the process of trying to figure out a way to set up a quasi self-sustained non-profit to not only do these appealsin a larger scale, but also to do it better and faster.
Having come from nothing, not having real guidance and/or mentors regarding college and/or a profession, I also try to volunteer in mock legal competition in the area with K-12 students.
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?
- Touchy subject… especially at this time; There are so many moving parts to the U.S. Immigration system that I do not think it is fair to say I wish this or that should change. However, under the same breath I do wish immigration and us immigrants were not used as political pawns, as this has a huge impact in the individual immigrant and their families. I would also say that one thing I love about being American is that I can institute change by using my rights to voice my opinion and my right and power to vote for someone into and out of political office. So the question is not whether I (or anyone else) has the power), but is more whether we are using it and to what extent.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
- One: be a good citizen. Meaning, as much as possible follow the rules.
Two: Civic duty. I believe fostering this in both immigrants and their children allow us to know we, just as any other American, have duty to our country. Although I personally did this by joining the military service, there is many ways to both foster this and take action on it.
Three: Have drive. Whether you are the one pursuing this, or want to instill it on your child, make sure you try to develop the drive to succeed. The road ahead is rough, and you must have the drive to keep going.
Four: Have guidance. Either find it or pursue it. Having drive is great… but if you do not know where you are going, the road may feel longer and rougher. Guidance comes in many forms, from teachers, family, professionals, etc. For example, I never knew a doctor or a lawyer personally growing up, and never thought I could be a lawyer. Through much guidance through many mentors, I was able to set my own path and choose on my own.
Fifth: Do not let it be just the American dream, but your reality. In order to achieve your dreams you will likely have to have clear goals, sacrifice a lot, be willing to fail, etc. That is where the above keys come into play. But most importantly, do not let others dictate your path, make your own and make that dream a reality. Many will be the challenges, many will be the failures, many will be the long days and nights, but it is what you do at those times and thereafter that matter.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
- Yes 1) The people 2) Our democratic system and 3) We are the United States of America
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. :-)
- My parents, in their own house, after I buy it; To put it in perspective, both my parents worked many jobs and lots of hours to get us to the U.S. When my bother and I came to the U.S., my parents, my brother and sister, and I, grew up in a one bedroom apartment.
My mother has been the sole caretaker of my father since he had a major stroke while I was in High School. She has worked hard to be both a parent and a care-taker, and her health has deteriorated.
Meanwhile I have been able to do the above accomplishments, and although I have had a good successful career thus far, with a family of my own, student loans, and living in the Boston area (which can be expensive), I have not yet achieved one of the “American Dreams” which is to own my own house.
But I am hoping that at some point I will be able to get them their own house, so that they can call it their own. So that they can further see their sacrifices have paid off.
That private breakfast or lunch I look forward to the most. But we are very hospitable people, so others are welcomed.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
If you would like to see the entire “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me” Series In Huffpost, Authority Magazine, ThriveGlobal, and Buzzfeed, click HERE.