Earlier this summer, lotus823’s Co-founder & Managing Partner, David Hernandez, had the opportunity to speak on the topic of passion at TEDxAsburyPark. Hernandez’s presentation, “My Bicultural Passion for America,” illuminated the personal and professional drivers behind his passion to build a business as a first generation, Cuban-born immigrant.
TEDxAsburyPark discovers and curates speakers, entertainers, and artists who share their take on passion with the community. In doing so, the annual Jersey Shore-based conference continues to educate and inspire attendees.
Below, watch Hernandez’s presentation as he discusses the passion that he embodies every day, coupled with his desire to be a “legitimate” American success.
You can find a full transcript of the video below.
“*David playing keyboard*
Hi, that musical mash-up I just played, is sort of a metaphor, for my talk. I’m a first-generation, Cuban-born immigrant, and that identity, those roots, that culture, is the very fuel that drives my passion for America, and for achieving my version of the American dream.
This photograph is a picture of my mother and father, Sariah and David Hernandez, taken in Cuba, years before Castro’s regime would come into power and change everything. They came from little means, they worked very hard, built a comfortable life, and my parents tried to raise us, and take care of us, in the very best way they knew how, in a country they knew and understood. All that changed dramatically when Castro’s regime came into power. Seemingly overnight, our safety was in question, their worldly possessions were stripped away. And so it was in the summer of 1963 that my parents made a very difficult decision. They decided to leave Cuba, leave everything they knew, all for the safety of their family, and for freedom. In the last Red Cross boat of August 1963, along with other Cuban refugees, we made our way to the United States. Strangers in a strange land, stripped of all we had except two changes of clothing, and a pair of shoes each. We made our way to New York, where luckily, my father had two brothers, and we were split up. My sisters and I were split to go live with our cousins while our parents looked for work and a place to live. And work they did.
My parents were working – my mother two jobs, my father, three – until they finally found a little apartment on the lower west side, on the 7th floor of a seven floor walk up – even though it did have an elevator I call it a walk up because the elevator was mostly broken. Quick story, years later I can remember years later as things got better, I got my first bicycle, taking that bicycle down the stairs for a ride, and then back up the stairs for a ride…. But, even though we were poor, I don’t recall ever really wanting for anything. What I do remember were regular celebrations and parties, with family and friends…Cuban food, wine, laughter, dancing…and music. The music of my parents’ homeland, those latin standards I ended up learning by heart, and something new: my sisters listening to pop, R&B, and American rock & roll. And it was American rock & roll that lit a fire in me. It really…it unleashed my imagination and I wanted to be a musician, and in short order I went to learn to play the piano, and get proficient at it, and eventually start to play in bands.
While this is going on, I’m watching my parents: their outrageous optimism, their incredible, endless sense of hope. My dad and my mother worked tirelessly, they never complained, they never really said much to us about it, other than in the doing. And in that doing, it cemented my identity. It made its way into my bones. It became a big part of how I would make my way in the world. That immigrant mindset.
And my parents, and my sisters and I, held onto each other, because that’s all we had. Identity was everything. It was our survival. And because of that, I watched my dad work as a busboy, and my sisters and I helping him to learn the menu, so that he could become a waiter. And when he became a waiter, years later he became the head of room service. The head of room service for the original Ritz Carlton in New York City. And I started to work with him, as I got older. And I would work in the summers, spring break, winter recess, whatever. Because that’s that immigrant mindset, if there’s honest work, and you can get paid, you take the job. While I was doing that I was playing in bands, and I was carrying around a cassette in my pocket. A demo tape of music, because I started to write, with my songwriting partner. And anybody that looked like they were in the music business, I would hand them that cassette, and say, yeah…I’m in the business, too.
Quick story, we’re in Asbury Park so I have to have a Springsteen story. Bruce stays at the hotel, and I get to meet him as a young man, and of course I, I start pestering Bruce. Mr. Springsteen, you know, here’s my cassette. I give him my cassette. And he was so kind, and a couple of days later he gave it back to me and sat down with me for a few minutes and kinda told me what he thought of the songs, what I should do differently, which was great. More fuel, right?
Eventually, I did get that deal. A producer flew me to London, and I got to meet some of my heroes. I got to play on a charity album that included artists like Ringo Starr, The Thompson Twins, Elvis Costello, and eventually I got to work with the Village People and co-produce, and co-write, and then become music director for the tour of Australia and Japan. Shortly after that, I decided I wanted to get into the music business. I got into the music instrument business, and in what I can only describe as a fever dream of job progressions, I started as a sales guy, and just worked really hard, and eventually, I became a Vice President.
It was after that that I decided I wanted to achieve my ultimate American dream, which was to own my own business. And I can say happily and with pride that I do own my own company. We’re in Eatontown, NJ, we have a marketing agency that has won multiple awards for our work with brands. I have to thank for that of course, a great partner, one of the smartest business people I’ve ever met, an incredible woman, a wonderful wife, the ying to my yang, Allison Hernandez who’s here tonight – I mean today…it’s still early.
I want to end though, where I began: with family. Familia. My roots. Mi raices. Mi gente, my people. It’s that identity, that mindset of an immigrant, that I learned firsthand living with my family and watching my parents that created this exquisite friction, that drove my love for America. For – to paraphrase Bono – for the idea of America; America is this beautiful idea. And it drove my passion for wanting to achieve the American dream. These two elements that seem diametrically opposed, actually work in synergy together.
We all talk about America as a melting pot, or being assimilated, but it’s more like that phrase, “well, America’s more like a salad,” right? You can have all of these individual flavors, but the whole makes this wonderful, whole flavor. And I feel that these two elements that are the two pieces of my identity, they’ve really become my foundation. And they are the legs upon which I stand, the legs upon which I stand before you here, today. Thank you.
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