Two days before Christmas, a then-21-year-old Milan approached his mom and said he was headed toward America. With dreams of working in Hollywood as an animal handler and $100 from his dad tucked into his sock, the native of rural Culiacán, a city in the Mexican state of Sinaloa, spent weeks trying to penetrate the border at Tijuana.
“My life was just against the wall. It’s almost like an animal in the zoo against the wall, back and forth, back and forth,” he recalled in a 2019 interview with DailyMailTV. “Many times, I let the immigration catch me, so I can eat, because the Mexican police won’t feed you, but the Americans do. At least they gave you bread with bologna and a coke and that gives you some sugar, and some carbs, and some salt. That’s pretty much it. That’s not a really healthy meal, but it at least kept you alive.”
He was running out of options when, “This guy comes out of nowhere, very thin guy, dirty, and he’s smoking a joint and he said, ‘Do you want to cross the border? I’ll charge you $100,'” he shared. “That for me was a sign, because nobody knows how much money you have.”
After crawling through a canal and spending two months sleeping under freeways, washing cars and dishes, he made his way to Los Angeles, where he transformed a job as a dog walker into a gig washing kennels—and then into his own Pacific Point Canine Academy and finally a TV empire—with a little help from pal Jada Pinkett Smith, who hired him an English tutor.
“We come with the whole survival spirit, fate, passion to feed our families,” Milan, who became a U.S. citizen in 2009, said of himself and his fellow immigrants. “We left home not because we wanted to. It’s because there are no opportunities, so we are here to push your economy faster than you could ever think. We’re the fuel.”