I Am Living Proof Of The American Dream: “People may say you don’t belong here — prove them wrong” with Gabe Quintela and Chaya Weiner
Resilience — You must understand that people will not see your value as an immigrant. People may say you don’t belong here — prove them wrong. Show that your impact on the country is much stronger than their efforts to put you down.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Gabe Quintela, the Director of the Summit Fellows program, an initiative created to democratize access to entrepreneurial opportunity. Just one year into the project, Summit Fellows has already been able to provide transformational support for a number of underrepresented, impact-driven leaders on the rise. Brazilian born, he moved to the US with his family at four years old in search of a better life. Prior to leading this social impact organization Gabe was an entrepreneur himself. At 17 years old he founded his first company, EnvoyNow, in his dorm room at USC. This college hustle quickly became a fully venture backed company across 20 markets with 2,000 employees. EnvoyNow was a last mile delivery logistics company catered to college students.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?
I grew up at the intersection of two cultures, Brazilian and American. Today, I see it as my superpower. The ability to pick and choose the best elements of each culture and build myself up in that way is something I’ll be eternally grateful for.
It didn’t always feel like an advantage however, it can be hard to perceive your differences in such a positive light. Growing up I remember wanting to fit in. I thought mimicking what all the other American kids were doing in school was the best way to do so.
I’d find over the years however that my ability to navigate a soccer field, speak Portuguese, throw a little extra hip rotation into a dance move or bring people back home to eat mom’s black beans is what drew others to me.
Was there a particular trigger point that made you emigrate to the US? Can you tell a story?
I came to the US when I was four years old. The trigger point was the tech boom in Silicon Valley in the late 1990s. My dad is a computer engineer and was recruited by a tech company in the Bay Area called Rational that was later acquired by IBM. My parents jumped on the opportunity to carve out a better life for our family. It wasn’t a decision that I made personally, but I was conscious of the change as we moved from Brazil.
Can you tell us the story of how you came to the USA? What was that experience like?
I was young, but the actual move stands out as one of those vivid and marking childhood moments. I remember the flight attendant unsuccessfully trying to give me toys and food to stop my crying. I don’t think I really understood the gravity of what we were doing, but I knew I wouldn’t see my extended family as much anymore — that scared me.
It was a simultaneous feeling of frustration and loneliness, but also so much hope. I’ve since talked to my parents at length about those early months — I know it was brutal for them. I think a lot of what drives me today is a desire to make the absolute most of what they sacrificed to give me.
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped make the move more manageable? Can you share a story?
It’s hard to point to a particular person — there have been many along the way.
It’s easier to shoutout my “American family.” As the Bay Area is so diverse, there are a number of other immigrant families without extended relatives to support them. Together, my family, alongside so many others have had the unique opportunity of building our own family out here.
To them I am forever thankful. Forming a true tribe with a group of other immigrants, we’ve adopted this support system that typically only exists through blood. A big “American family”, none of whom were born in the United States, all helping one another navigate this new life, learning together while simultaneously (and perhaps unintentionally) forging the future of American culture. Funny isn’t it?
So how are things going today?
For me? Great — I’m happy. I’m living the (American) Dream :)
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
At 17, I built a tech company to deliver food more conveniently to college kids. It was the coolest thing at the time to be able to say I was a tech founder running this “successful” startup at such a young age. I thought I was making a huge impact, but in reality I was just satisfying my own ego.
Looking back on that experience my biggest takeaway remains how unique my opportunity to start, fundraise for and scale a tech company was as an immigrant founder. I also reflect on how significant that journey was for my personal and professional growth.
Today, I’ve used those takeaways to root myself in a core mission of democratizing access to entrepreneurship — especially for those building companies that bring goodness into the world.
To do so I’ve built the Summit Fellows program, a two year initiative designed to connect impact-driven leaders — who do not currently have access to the networks they need to advance their work — to resources within the Summit community in order to accelerate their careers and deepen their impact.
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?
I think the most fundamental change we can make, before we even get to the immigrant system, is the public perception of immigrants overall.
Of course it’s an uphill battle, especially with the current president doing his best to paint the wrong picture. However we must fight to show the country, and the world, the impact that immigrants have on society. If we began to look to all the diverse cultures represented within the United States to be a superpower, as I described being able to do for myself, rather than a curse — we’d be empowered to build way more bridges… and way less walls.
We also need more support for immigrant families navigating American school systems. First generation children, with equal intellect to American kids, are left at a disadvantage because we don’t have the right mediums in place to help them succeed. Help with homework, college applications, finding a job out of school — are all desperately needed to help immigrants actually make the most of what the United States provides.
Lastly, and this should go without saying, we need to stop the separation of immigrant families. Families who are coming as refugees and claiming asylum can be valuable assets to our society. We need to invest in the resources those people can provide for our country rather than shut them out.
Can you share “5 keys to achieving the American dream” that others can learn from you? Please share a story or example for each.
1. Establish the Right Support System — The first key to achieving the American dream is having the correct people in place to be your “makeshift family”. I had this experience with other neighboring immigrant families growing up, and it has propelled me forward here.
2. Educate Yourself — Learn how to use the education system to your advantage and find the right mentors to guide you.
3. Resilience — You must understand that people will not see your value as an immigrant. People may say you don’t belong here — prove them wrong. Show that your impact on the country is much stronger than their efforts to put you down.
4. Choose Your Own Adventure — Understand that the American dream is a malleable experience. There are no rules, there is no roadmap. Just a series of learnings and a million different paths to getting to them.
5. Don’t Conform — You don’t need to get behind Bud Light, NASCAR, or whatever else you may deem as innately “American”. Instead, you should showcase the parts of your home culture that can help improve America overall.
We know that the US needs improvement. But are there 3 things that make you optimistic about the US’s future?
1. I’m optimistic about the amount of immigrants that are here in the United States, welcomed and loved. They have the ability to push this country forward.
2. The social entrepreneurs that I come across in my work. I see them making sacrifices to improve many inequalities that exist within the American systems mentioned above. It’s inspiring to see the ambition that people have to solve some of these issues and the resources that are in place in the United States to help them do so.
3. The education system. We have a world class education system that provides incredible growth to those who can use it to their advantage.
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. :-)
Kendrick Lamar — I think K Dot is unparalleled in his understanding of culture, psychology, and the struggle of the Black American, which is in many ways parallel to the struggle of immigrants. His ability to communicate his lessons through music, and make them accessible and digestible to a mass audience who otherwise doesn’t have the proper access to this education is remarkable.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I’m usually low key on social media — best for you to follow @summit on IG!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
About the author:
Chaya Weiner is the Director of branding and photography at Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator. TLI is a thought leadership program that helps leaders establish a brand as a trusted authority in their field. Please click HERE to learn more about Thought Leader Incubator.