Humberto Lopez came to this country legally as an immigrant with his family. He joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to discuss why the family emigrated from Mexico decades ago, his initial thoughts about our nation, and more.
“The American dream is still attainable as long as we have capitalism,” says Lopez, now 75 and a member of The Heritage Foundation. He adds:
Big government, it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And I think that’s going to take away the opportunities for a lot of the dreams [that] a lot of us would have had 50, 60 years ago. It’s making it harder and harder. I got a video the other day, it’s called ‘The Great Reset,’ where you won’t own anything, but you’ll be happy. Well, sure you’d be happy if they give you a home, free education, universal pay, college tuition free, and you stay home and don’t do anything. Yeah, you’re going to be very happy. But those of us that want to work hard for the American dream, it’s going to make it harder and harder. We’re going to be working for the government.
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Rachel del Guidice: We’re joined on The Daily Signal by Bert Lopez, co-founder and president of HSL Properties and chairman of the board of Paragon Vision Sciences. Bert, it’s great to have you with us on The Daily Signal.
Humberto Lopez: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Del Guidice: You first came to this country as an immigrant. Can you tell us about your story?
Lopez: Well, my father passed away. We were living in Sonora, [Mexico,] and he passed away. I was 12 years old. I was the eldest of six. And I pretty much had to go to work at that point to help the family since my father died. …
He was 51 years old, he did not have a will, consequently my mother didn’t know anything about Mexican law. So we came to the [United] States where my grandmother and uncle lived, so we moved in with them. One bathroom, three adults and six children living in a household. If I had to do it all over again, I wouldn’t want to change it. That made me who I am today.
Del Guidice: You mentioned you came here because your father passed away. What did you think of America when you first got here?
Lopez: Well, I didn’t speak English. I got held back the first year. I was living in a border town so I really didn’t know America until I pretty much graduated and left and went to a junior college and then to the University of Arizona.
And then the first time I left the state was when I was interviewing with the accounting firm. So I’m a CPA by profession and was flown to Los Angeles by a member of the accounting firm. So it was the first time I ever got to see anywhere outside of Nogales and Tucson and Douglas, where I went to school.
So that’s when I started learning about the country. I was pretty busy working, trying to make a living, helping the family, saving to go to college, and didn’t know much until I grew up.
Del Guidice: You had a lot of different jobs as a teenager. Can you tell us about what you learned in those different jobs?
Lopez: I learned that I didn’t want to do those jobs the rest of my life. … First, I was working 40, 44 hours a week when I was in high school. And I don’t know how I ever did any homework. Nevertheless, I was a C student. My counselor advised that I should go to a vocational school and become a carpenter, a plumber, an electrician. And God, I didn’t want to do that because that was not the type of work I wanted to do.
I did have a good work ethic since I was working from a pretty young age, and during high school, as I said, I was working 40, 44 hours a week. So consequently, I decided to go to junior college and give it a try.
I enrolled at Cochise College in Douglas, Arizona. They just opened the year before. And I’d saved some money, then applied for a loan, a federal loan. I got a grant of which I had to pay half of it and the other half was forgiven.
I worked at a cafeteria for my meals. And in the afternoon, since I had good work habit, I’d go to the library all afternoon and would study all afternoon, taking 18 credits. I never took less than 18 credits in all the four years I was in college. So two years later, I graduated from Cochise College with an Associate in Arts degree.
I transferred to University of Arizona, continued doing the same. Worked for my meals, [was] in library all afternoon, and got out in two years with an accounting major.
I wanted to be an auditor, a CPA, an auditor, where I’d get a light experience of different fields to figure out what I was going to do the rest of my life. So I applied to all the “big eight” at the time, got offers from every one of them, chose to go with Deloitte, became a real estate expert within the firm.
1971, one of the controllers of one of the firms that I was auditing gave me a book, “How to Turn a Thousand Dollars Into a Million Dollars.” I borrowed $1,000 from my uncle. I told him I’d pay him back with my income tax refund, which I did.
I then went to the Nogales. since I did not know Los Angeles that well, I bought a lot in Nogales for $3,000. Six months later, I sold it for $6,000, plus $1,000 that I had. By the way, the seller carried back $2,000. So I’d give him $1,000 down, they carried back $2,000. Six months later, I sold it. So I made a $3,000 profit, plus the$1,000 I had, so I had $4,000.
Immediately, I bought another lot for $5,000. Six months later, I sold it for $11,000. The seller also had carried back part of the purchase price. So before I knew it, I was on my way. Within a year and a half, I had made $25,000.
At that point, I was a National Guard, the Army Reserve. I had gotten drafted, so immediately I joined the National Guard.
On the weekends, once a month, we used to meet and I was able to convince five of my friends to each give me $5,000 and I would put in $5,000. We’d go out and buy an apartment complex, which I told them I’ll split the profits 50/50, but I’ll get my money last. So if I make a mistake, you get your money and I lose.
Well, six months later, we sold it for a $100,000 profit. And they became my lifelong investors. And the rest is history. I started to make little investments and before I knew it, I was making the large ones. So by 1979, I had properties throughout the Southwest all the way up to Georgia, sold out, thought I’d retire in 1980, but they didn’t last long.
Del Guidice: Wow. Well, as an immigrant to this country, what is your perspective on the current immigration crisis we’re seeing right now?
Lopez: I think there’s got to be a process. There was a process in the ’20s when … parents were coming to this country. And there was a process making sure that the people that were coming were people that we want them to be citizens of this country and not open borders as we have today.
I’m not in agreement with the open borders. And fortunately, since my mother was an American citizen, I was born in this country and I was an American citizen even though I grew up in Mexico.
Del Guidice: There’s a lot of talk, especially recently, about whether or not the American dream is still attainable. Based on your own experience, what do you think?
Lopez: The American dream is still attainable in as long as we have capitalism. Big government, it’s getting bigger and bigger and bigger. And I think that’s going to take away the opportunities for a lot of the dreams a lot of us would have had 50, 60 years ago. It’s making it harder and harder.
I got a video the other day, it’s called “The Great Reset,” where you won’t own anything, but you’ll be happy. Well, sure you’d be happy if they give you a home, free education, universal pay, college tuition free, and you stay home and don’t do anything. Yeah, you’re going to be very happy. But those of us that want to work hard for the American dream, it’s going to make it harder and harder. We’re going to be working for the government.
Del Guidice: You launched the Center of Opportunity that’s in Tucson. Can you tell us about what the center does?
Lopez: Yes. Several years ago, I visited a homeless shelter in Phoenix. And it looked like a homeless shelter, but what I liked about it is they were providing the services, and I can’t recall how many services, but they had a wide range of services for the homeless.
So the idea is still in me that if I ever had an opportunity, I would open up a homeless shelter, but it would be with dignity and respect, where all the services would be provided under one campus. And also, try to make it a model for the country.
Well, about three years later, a hotel became available, a 301-room hotel, and I jumped at the opportunity. Bought it, closed in 10 days, all cash.
And immediately, I had to go out and find out, what I call an anchor tenant, somebody that could help me realize the dream that I had for the center. And I interviewed nine different nonprofits, came up with Gospel Rescue Mission, been founded here in Tucson in 1953. It’s a religious-based, Christian-based organization. And they agreed to take over and help me with my vision.
I immediately engaged the architects to help plan the whole campus, while at the same time, Gospel Rescue Mission was getting the nonprofits that are going to operate within the center. Today, we have about 35 nonprofits operating. All the buildings have been completed. We’ll be fully operational, hopefully, by October. And we’ll have up to 550, 600 homeless living in the facility.
However, the whole idea here is not to provide housing and meals for these people, but to reintegrate them back into a society, give them dignity and get them a job where they can be self-supporting. So far, we’ve been very successful. Last month, from my understanding, we placed 58 homeless into jobs.
So the program is working very well. You’d drive by the property, you’d never see that it’s a homeless shelter. It is immaculate. There are all new buildings, beautiful property. Hopefully, you’ll have an opportunity to go visit and see it for yourself.
Del Guidice: What would your advice be to a young American who wants to be a successful entrepreneur?
Lopez: Well, one of the things that I’ve learned in all my years of running HSL Properties is that you cannot teach hard work. If you don’t have a hard work ethic in you, it’s going to be pretty hard to be successful.
And I see a lot of these millenniums, a lot of these young kids, they want to make a lot of money, but they don’t want to work too hard. I reward hard work more than I do smart. When I was in grade school, they used to give you a grade for effort. I wish they would do that to them.
Del Guidice: What was behind your decision to get involved in homelessness? Did you know a particular homeless person, or what was the burden on your heart that made you get involved?
Lopez: Well, yeah, I grew up in welfare. When I came to this country, grew up in welfare.
I promised my mom, my mother, that she was in line waiting for … Back in those days, they didn’t give you food stamps. You had to go into the Department of Economic Security and they would give you the boxes of food. And I remember as I’m holding her hand, and she was so embarrassed because she had grown up in Nogales, and people knew her, and all of a sudden, she comes back and she’s on welfare.
While we were living in Mexico, we were pretty much a middle-class family. My father was quite successful. So all of a sudden we go from middle income to not having anything. So I had gotten a taste of a little better life. So I always wanted to go back and recover the life I left behind. So I promised my mother one day I would take care of her. And I did.
Del Guidice: Are there any personal stories from the shelter, from your center, of people that you’ve helped that have gone on to do other things?
Lopez: Oh, absolutely. Right now, for the last three months, I have one of the graduates of the center who, before he ended up with an addiction and homeless for five years, he was a general contractor.
He had an accident, started taking Oxycontin, became addicted to Oxycontin. Pretty soon Oxycontin wasn’t working and he graduated to the harder drugs. And before he knew it, he had lost his family, his home. Ended up homeless for five years and in jail.
In jail, he got a wake-up [call] and he decided at that point, he was going to get well. So he started doing everything possible to make himself better. He then moved on to the Center of Opportunity, graduated from Center of Opportunity. And a wonderful young gentlemen.
So, first, what I did, I helped him with a car. He was riding a bike, going to work, and he needed a car, and I had an old car that I made it available to him. And when he finished the work he was doing at another property, I brought him over to my house and … my wife says, “I’d love to have this kid as my son-in-law.”
So he’s worked very well. Very honest, very hardworking. And he’s going to be getting his general contractor’s license again. And he’s gotten a number of high recommendations. So he’s on his way to a better life and getting back where he left off.
Del Guidice: Wow, thanks for sharing that. Well, as we wrap up, do you have any thoughts on how conservatives can better reach Hispanics?
Lopez: Today it’s getting harder and harder with all the entitlements that people are getting. But that first generation that comes in, any immigrant that comes into this country, they come here to work. However, if you start promising them all these entitlements, you’re going to make them lazy, they’re not going to work.
We own apartments and hotels and we build them on apartment complexes. We’re finding it harder and harder and harder to find skilled workers. And the only ones that come in and take those jobs are Hispanics, they are the Mexicans.
The first generation that come to this country, they’re coming to work hard. They work in the heat, they work long hours. But if we start promising that we’re going to take care of them, it’s going to get harder and harder.
For instance, here at the hotel, the Ritz-Carlton, we cannot get the minimum-wage employees. And we’re not paying minimum wage, but we cannot get them to come back to work.
My understanding right now, that if you’re unemployed, you’re getting $600 a week, which is $15 an hour without any deductions. I was at a restaurant the other day, they’re paying him $17.50, offering $17.50. They cannot get him to come to work because they don’t want to work for $2.50 an hour. … “Why make a couple of hundred dollars more and I have to go to work [when] I can get $600 a week without working?”
So when that stops, hopefully, they’ll come back. But I don’t know if that’s ever going to happen because these entitlements are growing by the day. The debts in this country will be at $30 trillion before we know it, which is about $100,000 per living soul in this country.
I don’t know how we ever pay it back other than through inflation. I see inflation looming. It’s right in front of us. And before we know it, we’ll have hyperinflation.
Del Guidice: Well, Bert, thank you for joining us on The Daily Signal. It’s been great having you with us.
Lopez: Thank you. It’s been a pleasure.