The Roller Coaster Pursuit to Become an American Citizen (with Olo's Diego Panama)

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This is a podcast episode titled, The Roller Coaster Pursuit to Become an American Citizen (with Olo's Diego Panama). The summary for this episode is: <p>“I don’t know if there was a specific figure or person, but it was just that concept of opportunity and not being tied down because you weren’t born in the right borders or to the right family.” </p><p><br></p><p>That's the reason Diego Panama, Chief Revenue Officer of Olo - an online ordering platform for revenue brands - gives for why he dedicated the first 17 years of his life in the United States to pursuing an American passport.</p><p><br></p><p>In this episode of The American Dream, Diego explains what exactly that pursuit of an American passport looked like. He explains why he thinks everyone should have the immigrant hustle, and he shares his next big goals for life in the United States.</p><p><br></p><p>Be sure to hit the subscribe button to get new episodes when they drop every other Tuesday.</p><p><br></p><p>In the meantime, be sure to leave a ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️ review and share the pod with your friends. You can connect with Elias on Twitter at @eliast and @DriftPodcasts.</p>

Elias Torres: Hola, I'm Elias Torres, co- founder and CTO at Drift. You are listening to the American Dream Podcast. Did you know that Drift is part of just 2% of VC back startups led by Latin American founders? Well, I'm on a mission to change that. On this show, you will hear from leaders who have achieved their own version of the American dream. We'll talk about what the process looked like to get there. The obstacles they faced along the way and the work we still have to do to build the new face of a diverse corporate America. foreign language to the American Dream Podcast. Today, Diego Panama joins me on the show. Diego is the Chief Revenue Officer at Olo, an on demand commerce platform powering the restaurants, industries, digital transformation. Prior to Olo, Diego spent eight years at Livegram where he helped the team grow up from 30 to over 1500 employees from 50 million to$ 500 million in revenue. Diego has seen a lot of success, very proud of you in your career, but all of this work was in pursuit of one goal, they started with the pursuit of one, and that goal was to become an American citizen. So I want to talk about that today. I want to talk about what that pursuit looked like and how others can pursue their versions of their American dream and what the next big goals are for Diego. Diego, welcome to the show.

Diego Panema: Elias, thank you so much for having me. It's real pleasure, and honor to be here and real pleasure and honor to get to know you a little bit better too. So thank you for having me.

Elias Torres: Yeah, no, my pleasure. This is a podcast. A lot of podcasts are with fancy celebrities. This podcast is only with hardcore immigrants, hustler, Latinos, underrepresented that are here trying to achieve our American dream. That's the kind of celebrities I bring on the show.

Diego Panema: I love it. We get the job done.

Elias Torres: We get the job done. That's what immigrants do. So where'd you grow up?

Diego Panema: So I grew up not too far away from you. I grew up in El Salvador in San Salvador, the capital and I came over when I was 18.

Elias Torres: Wow. What? Same thing. So what, so I came when I was 17. What was your childhood like?

Diego Panema: Yeah. So I grew up in El Salvador. You remember, the eighties civil war, so that's a theme, but I grew up in a very nice, comfortable family. I was lucky that we had food, we had a nice house. I had a good education, even though we had this backdrop of the civil war around us. So I had a nice childhood, something that I remember, and it's what we're going to talk about today, since I can remember, when you asked me, what did I want to be when I grew up, I would say, I want to be an American citizen. I wanted that passport, that blue passport. And I think a lot of that is my dad's influence that he just recognized that there'd be a lot more opportunity for me if I could get out of El Salvador and we can talk about that as well. But I like to say that almost everything I've done since I hit eighth grade, I remember eighth grade was critical because that's when your grades started counting for university applications, so that's when I buttoned up. Now if I want to get to the US, I have to get good grades. So everything I've done was very deliberate to figure out how I could get that blue passport. That was a little bit of my childhood. I'll tell you one that had a big influence on me. There was a big event. And when I was probably about 15 or 16, that also had a big impact on me, which is on a Friday afternoon, dad comes home and tells my mom and my sisters that we have to leave the house because the bank is likely going to take it over next week. I mean, my mom had no idea and that's a separate story, but the shock and trauma, we to move to a tiny little apartment that we're lucky my grandparents had, that just gave me kind this ambition and this hunger for financial security that stays with me till today. I had a beautiful childhood really focused on education, but no shortage of economic shocks and that was just a big one that really everything I've done since.

Elias Torres: Wow. Its kind of amazing the parallels that you and I have. The house that I lived in, I don't know how it compares to your house, but I found out the year that we came here, that she was really borrowing that house from the guy that left during the coup from the Samozas and the-

Diego Panema: Yeah. Wow.

Elias Torres: So a guy took off and he told my mother," Can you take care of my home?" Most people would steal homes. I thought my mom borrowed, but my mom told me that she actually finished paying his mortgage and then we lived in it. And then when the guy came back, he came knocking and he said," I want my house back." And so I did not have grandparents with an apartment waiting for me. And literally the church had an old lot and had it from the earthquake. And they said," There's three lots that you can take because we don't want to lose that lot." But there was a house there... Not a house. There was four pieces of wood with plastic around it and a plastic roof. And so that's when we went to see right, as we were getting the call to come to the United States and my mom said that's where we're going to live. I was like, oh my God, we ran from a house-

Diego Panema: Wow.

Elias Torres: I was going to live in a house with plastic bags, trash bags walls... Same thing. I was 17 when I heard that.

Diego Panema: It's that shock. It's cold water in your face that this home, that is your world... I kind of see my kids now in my house, it's theirs, it's their house. And I love it obviously, but then all of a sudden it's just not really yours. And you kind of have to like figure it out. I mean, probably similar to you, I wanted to be an American citizen because I want to have opportunity to make something of myself and to contribute, but that drive to make money and have financial security has always been there. And I think that just really kind accentuated the need for that. For the longest time, I was paranoid losing this house, I would go sit with my wife, and go through every scenario that could happen, of where we could lose... I mean its impossible. We're not going to lose this house. But it was just that sense of security. Yeah.

Elias Torres: What a great feeling. That's a version of the American dream, is to have that stability and to be in a country that you feel somewhat secure that you can live in that house. You can pay for it, the bank or the government or the military is not going to come and take it and ask you to move out and you have built enough financial security to know that it's not going away. Congrats. I think that's for all of us, Latin Americans and immigrants coming which... Question, I believe in role models a lot, you said, he was your father, who are the role models? Do you remember vividly? Who is the person that you looked up and said they went to the United States and why you built this association with getting the passport as your most important pursuit?

Diego Panema: So, I mean, my father helped me with education and curiosity and that's the path, but I don't know if there was like a specific role models. Because all the examples I had, the way I grew up and I'm sure it's similar in Nicaragua, there's a very small, very wealthy community and then the rest of the country. And I was exposed to that. All my friends and all kids I went to school had the blue passport and they were going to Vail. And I was very, very far away from that world. But I just remember thinking" Man, they can do whatever they want. They can go wherever they want. They can study wherever they want. They can get whatever job they want." And I don't know if there was a specific figure, but a person that kind of drove me, but it was just that concept of just opportunity and not being tied down because you weren't born in the right borders or to the right family.

Elias Torres: Right. No, I think that makes sense. That's clear though, where it came. Now I can picture it. You were able to go to a good school where you got to see the wealthy of the nation and they all had already worked on that. I see people that come and they have their babies here because they're wealthy and they can, they can fly them over with the visa and then they get the passport and they go back. And so it's the setup. Vail. Wow. I didn't even know Vail existed till a few years.

Diego Panema: Yeah.

Elias Torres: I mean, it's...

Diego Panema: I didn't know what it was. I just knew that it was skiing and they would all go together and I didn't see snow until I was 19.

Elias Torres: Yeah. Same.

Diego Panema: Yeah. It's...

Elias Torres: Yeah. I don't know. I was 22 when I saw snow.

Diego Panema: Okay yeah. Yeah.

Elias Torres: Because I was in Florida for the first six years. And so yeah... No, that's great. It's funny because sometimes I've been to Vail and I see a couple of Latino families and most of that ones I ran into are Argentinian, or something like that. Super wealthy, when I see them, I immediately go, wow. It's a whole family speaking Spanish. They don't live here. They must be so wealthy to come and do this kind of vacation. I was talking to a friend this morning, as a Latino in Nicaragua, I never had vacations. I think I went to the beach for spring break, one day and go and come back. That was-

Diego Panema: And that's the other thing. I remember the weekends... El Salvador doesn't have a tourism infrastructure, it's not like Costa Rica or it's... So if you go to the beach, it's pretty much private houses. So if you want to go... And we didn't have anything like that, but a lot of my friends... You just see it and it's like, okay, so on the weekend, we just stay home. And so it just creates this hunger and then that was part of connected to kind of the American dream that unfortunately, if you're not born into it, it's very hard. Where I do believe that as imperfect as the United States is one of the most incredible amazing countries in history. And I do believe that for the most part, if you work your butt off and are curious, you have the opportunity to do well, and you have the opportunity to do exponentially well. I know you talked about that a couple podcasts to go, you can lockstep your family wealth for generations and not just kind of survive. And I feel like that's very... I don't know if it's unique to the US, but it's precedent in the US. And it's a big reason why I wanted to come here.

Elias Torres: I think a big breakthrough to thank your parents, was that I've heard this before, of, I kind of sit in two camps. In some ways I went to a public school here in Tampa and that's what my mom could afford. Other immigrants, they will say my parents worked so hard. So they would send me to a private school in another zip code. The point is, I don't know the specifics for you, maybe you tell me, but there was an effort, there was a conscious effort that your father wanted you to be in this school. And that made a positive impact for you. Where you could have gone worse, you could have been negative and sad and depressed because you didn't have what the other ones have and you weren't a part of it. But instead you turn it around into a good type of motivation for you. And there were role models that expose you to things. That's the thing that people don't understand is that we need to be exposed to things. We need to see things to want them, to pursue them, to think that is possible. If we don't have that vision... We have that immigrant hustle, but if it's not directed as a vector into the right direction, we cannot achieve the dream.

Diego Panema: Yeah. I haven't thought about, but I think that's a great point, exposure just so that you understand what's possible. It's kind of hard to imagine that certain things are... I see some things now that I would've never imagined possible growing up. It was like, oh, this is a thing, people do this, this is possible. So I think that the exposure is a great point and both my mom and dad, the budget for the school was untouchable. That was it.

Elias Torres: And that in a way, just... Everything just builds on each other, one step after the other. And you go into that school, you saw the passport, you saw the access that this wealthy people had. And you're like, well, the one thing... It's amazing, you observed one thing. They had this passport. And you're like, how do we do it? Question, so how did you get the passport?

Diego Panema: It took me... So I got here, call it September. And I became a citizen on April 11, 2017. So about 17 years. And I'm very deliberate, I'm pretty thorough. I had studied everything there is to study about becoming an American citizen. So for example, you go to top tier schools, you're more likely... And you start with a student visa that gave you 12 months. If I remember correctly, I think we call it practical training or on the job practical training. But if you went to a good school, you were more likely to be able to get a job that would sponsor you. In addition, if you studied math and science, it was easier for you to get sponsorship for that, because you had to get a job that was going to be related to what you studied. So in order to go from a student visa to a work visa, which is an H1B, so I love history, but sorry, that's a luxury, you're going to study math and economics. I mean, that's what I told myself. And so I ended up studying math and economics so that I could get sponsorship for an H1B. Then again, I've done the research, and if you have a Master's degree, your path to the green card, accelerate, you're at a higher tier, because you only have six years of that work visa. And after those six years, you have to go back to your country for at least a year. And all these were my nightmares at night. It's like, what would I do? I have three... So, I had to work for three years, go get a Master's degree, and then I would have another three years to finally get my green card. And that's what I did. So I did math and economics, so I could get an H1B and then I worked in an economics related field, pushed to get a Master's degree. And then I went to get my Master's degree. And then from there we talked about it. I went to MIT Sloan, which is an awesome business school. In your backyard, you have options and startups, I've always been curious. And I had worked in with startups in my first job, but that was a luxury I didn't feel like I could afford. So I chose to go work for Microsoft and move out here to Seattle. Even though I love New York city, I love the east coast, I never really been to Seattle before. And you shared a similar story about Boston but I knew Microsoft sponsors thousands. It's probably one of the biggest... At the time, it was one of the biggest sponsors of first, make sure you get your H1B, they weren't going to mess it up. And then second translate that H1B to a green card. So that's why I ended up at Microsoft so that I could make sure that I could make that transition from the H1B to the green card. And once you get the green card, you're sort of a little bit safer. You still don't... My wife makes fun of me because I'm always driving at the speed limit. I'm like very... I still feel like an outsider. I've got to be very respectful of everything in the country. But once you have that green card, now you can change jobs without asking for permission, I would say. Before, when you have an H1B, it's tied to your employer, if you want to change jobs, there's a whole process and they must really want you for it. It didn't seem feasible. So finally I got the green card and then I had a little bit more freedom. So that's when I kind of started joining... I joined startups. I joined live inaudible early on because I had that security that if that doesn't work, I can easily get another job. Now, once you have a green card, it felt like a piece of cake. And then I kept... I was very aggressive with the process. So about three years later we finally got the citizenship and it was great. I'm so happy that I'm here. And if I choose to, I will stay here, nobody can pick me out.

Elias Torres: Did you travel anywhere outside the United States after you got the passport? Where's the first place you went to?

Diego Panema: Well and I think... I mean, you may remember, but there's a period of time where you can't travel. When you're going from the green card to the passport and you have to an interview and you have to do all these tests, you can't travel. So in that period of time, you're kind hoping that there's no emergencies at home. So we went to El Salvador, I chose to go into the country as an American instead of using... And you have to pay$ 10 or whatever the tourist fee is. That was a moment for me. I thought that was pretty cool.

Elias Torres: What a journey. I mean, I think... God, it's so many thoughts. It's a beautiful, well executed and I'm sure it doesn't sound... It's not as easy as you making it sound. I mean, I under, but it's like, everything went perfect and you behaved perfectly for it, in some ways. The sequence of things, but you made the right choices, that made it work out, but it was 17 years.

Diego Panema: Yeah. And to your point... And it's a roller coaster and I think this is all I wanted in life. So I was devoted a hundred and 20 percent. I would stay up at night reading all the immigration sites, the law, everything possible. So I knew everything that could go wrong and yes, it's a rollercoaster. I remember I was on Microsoft and I think it was 2010, 2011, we were in the downturn, the unemployment rate was high. So I got the news that they couldn't justify my green card sponsorship because there were Americans who could do the job that they were sponsoring me. And I went to my GM, which is the partner of the group, like a inaudible and I was bawling, crying like a... I just remember. And he was so kind and sure, no... We figured out and because my time was running out because you have those six years. So I remember we had to go back and go through my passports at the time and count every day that I had been outside of the US so that we could add those, so that I had a little bit more time. I ended up moving to sales because there was a role that would be easier to sponsor.

Elias Torres: I hear people that are natural citizens, that have a lot of privilege and opportunity. And they're complaining about not getting promoted in six months. They're complaining about why they're not vice presidents and they have no idea what you were... You're crying. You're worrying every minute about the lottery, the sponsorship-

Diego Panema: The lottery. Oh my gosh. Yeah.

Elias Torres: Any moment the company fires you, you're gone, you start over.

Diego Panema: Oh, the company fires you, you go home.

Elias Torres: Yeah. You go home.

Diego Panema: But if I win the lottery... There's five countries that are not eligible to apply for that lottery, guess which one's one of those five?

Elias Torres: El Salvador.

Diego Panema: El Salvador. Yeah.

Elias Torres: foreign language.

Diego Panema: And there's already too many of us and I don't know, but it's such a privilege to be a citizen of this country. Again, as imperfect as it is, we have a lot of work to do, but you just can't take it for granted. It's a real privilege and-

Elias Torres: No, it's so much respect for you. You did compress... What we read in another podcast that there's a study that takes Latino immigrants, six to eight generations to generational wealth. This study that we have and you were able to do it in one. And you executed it flawlessly to be able to go from a student to very successful top tech executive, wealthy, by most means in this country, I would imagine, and capable. And now a proud American citizen. Through a lot of hard work. And you did it in one generation. So it's like-

Diego Panema: Right back at you, Elias, you're a role model for all of us.

Elias Torres: No, no. Yeah. But we did it in parallel. And so I just want to show that-

Diego Panema: We are in Boston the same time and had I known that you, David... I have no idea, but I was there between 2007, 2009. So I think you're already there.

Elias Torres: Yeah. Yeah. So I was here in 2000. And I've been here since... So 22 years now. But that's the thing is like times are changing. And I mean, just even this podcast is rare. It's just, there's just not many podcasts of us and the success and the dream and the journey. I will say something though, I'm at a reflection point right in my life and I've now become privileged. I am so fortunate, where I have that American passport, I have stability and my children can trust their homes. And my son went to a camp to Hawaii this morning, 4: 00 AM in the morning, we dropped them off at the airport.

Diego Panema: That's amazing.

Elias Torres: Right. Little side story. My children cannot get a phone until they build an iPhone. So-

Diego Panema: I heard you say that in one of your podcasts, I love it.

Elias Torres: He's the third one. He's almost 16 next month. And he still does not have a phone because he is being lazy and doesn't want to make the app. He was trying to convince me and my wife and I and him like that, what if I get him the phone, and then we store it after the trip. So he's going on a trip with a couple of other teenagers without a phone. And we gave him his iPad and he didn't want to pull it out with this information. And I'm like, you're privileged, but I'm not giving you a phone. You have to earn it. I'm not giving you this. And then you keep it and you sneak it in. The answer is no, you've known for years. He's in ninth grade. My other kids did it at sixth grade, seventh grade. He's been wasting his time. You get no phone.

Diego Panema: Well, I'm sure you think about the that sense of hunger and ambition. For me came from just growing up with not a lot, seeing what I could have if I worked hard and having that experience, it just gives me this drive and my kids are younger than yours, I hope they get it. And I hope they contribute to society. I hope that...

Elias Torres: I think they're going to contribute to society. But what we share is very special, what we've gone through. What I was saying about my inflection point is that everything is so much easier for me now. And it doesn't feel the same anymore as when I used to go clean the offices with my mother, go to bed late, wake up, how do we pay this? I need this car. I'm buying this car off the street with a sign that said for sale at a grocery store, the Chevy Cavalier, that costs us$ 900. And everything felt... When you earn every single thing from scratch and that hustle, it is a great feeling that I cherish and that my children will not necessarily feel the same way.

Diego Panema: So I was thinking about that because yes, it's hard, but it's fun to put it all out there, you don't have a safety net, you either... I hadn't really realized or thought about it for a long time until you mentioned it, but if I would've gotten fired or laid off, I wouldn't be here. So there's no safety net. You have to work your butt off. And you have to hustle, hustle, hustle. And I was just thinking about how it's going to be different for our kids, they have a great safety and hopefully they use that to take things to a new level that, we can't even imagine. But having that hustle that high, just again, no safety net and the hunger, I'm grateful for that.

Elias Torres: Yeah. And-

Diego Panema: And iss your mom around, Elias? Is your mom still around? Is your mom still around?

Elias Torres: My mom is in-

Diego Panema: She must be incredibly proud of you. inaudible dream.

Elias Torres: No, she just mostly keeps me grounded and pulls me by the ear and just makes sure that she's always like applying the wisdom techniques of to stay grounded, not do crazy things, to help, to relax, to really feel happy, to focus on the family and things like that. Because she always sees me with hunger and ambition. And she's like, relax. Not in a vacation way, but in a spiritual... In my soul. To don't have to always be... I'm just too much fire. I just am.

Diego Panema: Do you think... Yeah, I can appreciate that. Something I think about is it possible to be ambitious and happy at the same time? Because by definition, if you're ambitious, you're not happy with a status quo. You want more or different. I've come to terms where it's like, they actually feed of each other and I'm like happy when I am pushing. But it's... Yeah.

Elias Torres: I mean, I think that's the way we're built in as human beings. I just think that we always want more. That's the way we're built. That's the way we're designed. It's just like, if we have this meal, well, tomorrow we might want to have a different one or a better one. Or we see something... We want more, we cannot just eat the same thing or be in the same place or wear the same clothes or... We want more, it's built in. And so how-

Diego Panema: Do you think... I don't think everybody's like that. I don't know if you'd agree with that, but for you, do you think it's nature or nurture?

Elias Torres: We can argue about this. I think that every human being wants more. There's different degrees of more.

Diego Panema: Sure.

Elias Torres: There is not one person that would just eat the same thing every day, wear the same thing, live in the same, wear the same shoe. I mean, we can say that there's people that look like that, Warren Buffet or Bill Gates or whatever. It's the same clothes, same shoes, whatever it is. It's not true. I'm just saying everybody wants... That they can get up and go try to get it is different. That they will do something about it, but that everybody wants something more, everybody wants it. You think so? You think there's people... How many people in the world do not want nothing more?

Diego Panema: Yeah. And maybe more is defined different for different people. Because not everybody wants more money.

Elias Torres: No, no, no. I don't mean money. For example, if people didn't want more, they wouldn't have children, because the minute you have a child, you are asking for something that you didn't have. And so the minute you have that, then you want more for your children. And then they're going to ask you for... Just saying-

Diego Panema: I agree with that.

Elias Torres: We're just wired.

Diego Panema: It's fulfilling. Everybody wants a sense of purpose.

Elias Torres: Yeah.

Diego Panema: And that's never really done-

Elias Torres: And that's never really done.

Diego Panema: You're always working.

Elias Torres: Right. And so-

Diego Panema: One it's done, you die. Yeah. It's...

Elias Torres: Yeah, exactly. And so that's kind why we're doing this and so now the question is the journey of getting them more is extremely satisfying. It's way more important than whatever you get on the other side. It's like... My kids, the times... I mean, they're at a great time right now, but when we had to bathe them, when we had to take care of them, that was so hard, so tough. But those are the moments that define me as a parent. And now we're just having fun. But we're going to prepare them for the next stages. And we got to see, so it's... I don't know. What are those ways as immigrants to enjoy the challenges in the hustle? It's something that we want the American country, the US, to harness is what I want. To understand that there's so much power in the immigrant philosophy and the immigrant energy.

Diego Panema: I mean, I believe that at its core, the United States is an immigrant country. I mean, it is, there's no... It was built by immigrants. It was grown by immigrants. I don't know the official stats, but look at, at least in tech, I forget there's a very handsome share of CEOs that are immigrants or kids of immigrants. And I think it has to do with that hustle and that ambition. And I think a lot about it. I think that we talked about what was surprising about that process? Reflecting now, what surprising is just how emotional it is, because it's something that is completely out of your control, but has absolute influence over your life and your outcomes.

Elias Torres: Yeah.

Diego Panema: And so I think you learn not to take anything for granted and that's in a way, a definition of hustle. You don't take it for granted, you fight for it.

Elias Torres: I think that's something to highlight about Latin American immigrants, or first generation, whatever, is that might be... I'm connecting that to your journey right of everything that you did, compared to the struggle that I see in tech and employees and that are starting their careers and how many things they're worrying about that I don't see as a concern or a worry. And we're trying to impart to them that it's going to be fine. But that grit inside, that emotion, that stress, that urgency, that necessity seems to be capable, seems to me much more important than brain, talent, pedigree or skin color. It's cuts through anything.

Diego Panema: A hundred percent.

Elias Torres: It's the most powerful force. I'm not going complain if I didn't get a free lunch today or I'm not going to... I focused on getting my visa. That was you. What everybody complained at lunchtime, it went one side of your ear and it went out the other and you were like, I don't give a shit, as long as I can apply and I need my three years right now. And that's all it matters. I don't care my time-

Diego Panema: I remember so vividly. I was in the elevator and we had free lunch, in the early days, and I have two kids, I'll call them kids, but... But can you believe that the vegetarian option was tofu again? Are you kidding me? So many levels of that. I-

Elias Torres: I just explode when I hear that. And so that's the importance. That necessity and that hunger makes us innovative, creative, persistent, tough, looking for the most crappiest solution to the problem. Because we have to win. We have no choice. We burned the ships. You came here, you didn't want to go back. You were like, I don't want to go back. I don't want to go back. I have not gone back to Nicaragua. I was like," I'm not going back." I'm like," There's no way that I need to succeed here." That there was no way looking back. So no, this is great. I love this story, 17 years to achieve your dream of getting that passport. And you did that really well, not only getting the passport, but being extremely successful. Let's wrap up here. What is your next big goal now? You made it.

Diego Panema: Oh, thanks for the time, Elias, and for the opportunity to share the story. Hopefully it's helpful to other.. I mean, if you're an immigrant, keep hustling and be curious. I think that's the exposure part. I really like you highlight that because you'd be curious and learn what's out there because you can have it for me. What's next? I love the hustle. I'm still in it. Tactically, I want to get Olo, my new company to a billion dollars in revenue. So it's full focus there and continue to build and grow with my kids. I want them to grow. I have three young kids, seven, six, and four. I want them to grow to be contributing members of society. And I want them to want to hang out with me when they're in their twenties. So hopefully we'll do that. And then I've always cared about having an impact and more and more, I'm getting educated and involved in our immigrant community. Because there's a lot of work to do there with the community and educating folks outside of the community. So that's kind of how I think about what's next, but continue to work really hard. I mean, I think that's fun for me.

Elias Torres: So yeah, absolutely. I think that's the responsibility that we carry and of how do we help others? How do we lift others as we rise? I'm doing different things and just meeting people and exposing myself. There's a lot of need out there. That's the good thing. But I'm trying to transform my ambition, be able to channel it into the right thing, to feel that again. And solve big problems that people have. And we need more. I think you being here, it's like you were here not too far from me. And people are just not aware who's around, who's successful, what do they go through? And so you're a role model for many. People are listening. I know a lot of people are in that visa journey, of getting that and working that place so hearing you should be encouraging, that it's possible.

Diego Panema: I'll put in a plug in something that I'm learning, but if you have a green card, you should be working your butt off to get that citizenship because that's how we're going to make a difference. More of us vote, more of us participate in society. And you'll be surprised, but there's a very meaningful number of people out there that have a green card and just kind of sit pretty. It doesn't change my... Actually, it does go get your American passport. It's going to take you one to two years, but get it going.

Elias Torres: Absolutely. No, it is something that, without getting political philosophical, I pay respect to this country because this country allowed me to become who I've become. No other country has accepted me and invited me and gave me this opportunity. So I'm thankful. I don't care what other people say. And whether they're from this country and this country, blah, blah, blah, I'm thankful. This is the only one. So we're living the American dream. I hope others can achieve it too. Be inspired by Diego's story. We'll bring other people that we have lined up, great stories. And I'm so impressed for my fellow Latinos that are working really hard in this country.

Diego Panema: Thanks for all you're doing, Elias.

Elias Torres: Ciao. Thanks for listening to the American dream podcast, make sure to hit subscribe so you never miss when a new episode drops. If you like this episode, please leave a six star review wherever you listen to your podcast. And if you're interested in learning more about my American dream mission, subscribe to my newsletter, link in the show notes.


“I don’t know if there was a specific figure or person, but it was just that concept of opportunity and not being tied down because you weren’t born in the right borders or to the right family.”

That's the reason Diego Panama, Chief Revenue Officer of Olo - an online ordering platform for revenue brands - gives for why he dedicated the first 17 years of his life in the United States to pursuing an American passport.

In this episode of The American Dream, Diego explains what exactly that pursuit of an American passport looked like. He explains why he thinks everyone should have the immigrant hustle, and he shares his next big goals for life in the United States.

Key Moments:

  • (2:01) Diego’s childhood
  • (7:51) What inspired Diego to attain American citizenship
  • (14:03) Diego’s journey to obtaining an American passport
  • (18:04) The first place Diego traveled after he got his American passport
  • (19:04) The obstacles Diego overcame to achieve American citizenship
  • (25:32) The immigrant hustle
  • (27:13) Is it possible to be ambitious and happy at the same time?
  • (30:13) The United States is (and should be) an immigrant country
  • (31:43) The first-generation grit cuts through anything
  • (34:07) Diego’s next big goal

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