Cesar Millan has an Emmy-nominated television series, best-selling books and a line of dog products.
But before he became a Hollywood success story known as the “Dog Whisperer,” Millan risked his life to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.
“I jumped the border,” Millan told long-time friend Jada Pinkett Smith on Tuesday’s episode of her Facebook series, Red Table Talk.
The Mexico native said he faced starvation and death as he made the journey to the United States.
“They can sell you. They can kill you for organs,” he said about the smugglers known as “coyotes” on the Mexican side of the border.
But Millan never gave up because he desperately wanted a better life.
“I know I broke a boundary and a rule, but it was for a dream,” he explained.
After watching Lassie and Rin Tin Tin movies as a child, he wanted to be a veterinarian. But growing up poor, there was no money for college.
He decided to pursue his dream, and left Mexico with just $100. After arriving in South Central Los Angeles, he found work cleaning dog kennels.
“I knew I had to start from the bottom and cleaning kennels is not a problem. Those are the jobs that as immigrants, we get,” he said.
Millan also walked dogs and offered training services on the side, but said he wanted more.
He became friends with Pinkett Smith while training her boyfriend’s dog.
Millan told her he wanted to do a television or radio show about pets. The problem was he didn’t speak English, so Pinkett Smith helped him learn the language.
“The next day, a friend of hers came to my place in South Central and said, ‘I’m your new English teacher,'” Millan explained. “So because of Jada, I speak English.”
The story brought Pinkett Smith’s mom, Adrienne Banfield-Jones, to tears.
“Wow I didn’t realize that. That’s very special,” she said.
Millan praised the U.S. for providing opportunities, even to the very poor.
“America is the land of opportunities,” he said. “But it’s also the land of quality opportunities.”
Millan became a U.S. citizen in 2009.