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Cassie Lam

Episode 002

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From Leaving for College to Owning a Business; an Immigrant's Perspective

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About Cassie Lam

Cassie and her family moved from Vietnam, seeking a better life. They settled down in Monterey Park, where Cassie was surrounded and grew up around the diverse immigrant population that the San Gabriel Valley is known for. She later attended Mark Keppel High School in Alhambra before leaving for college at the University of California at Santa Cruz.

Cassie then entered the workforce in Northern California before meeting her husband Scott while back home in Southern California. Before long, they started a family and opened an optometry business together. Along the way, she’s learned many valuable lessons about what it takes to run a small business and raise a family in the San Gabriel Valley.

 

MPO Eyecare Optometry
349 East Main St., Suite 103, Alhambra, CA 91801
(626) 573-9336
www.mpocares.com

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Cassie Lam Quotes

  • “We should never take anything for granted because their journey to get us here, immigrating from Vietnam, refugee camps in the Philippines, and just sponsored to be here legally was such an amazing and difficult journey for them.”
  • “We didn’t feel poor because everyone around us made it feel so comfortable and so normal.”
  • “Have faith over fear because things always feel harder before they get easier, but that is when you really grow so much as an individual.”
  • “This book [Financial Peace University] taught me so much, more than I think I ever learned in college.”
  • “As long as you’re a small business owner, there will always be some type of obstacle.”
  • Cassie Lam and her family immigrated from Vietnam to the United States when she was 2 years old.
  • She grew up poor but did not realize it due to the massive impact of the community around her.
  • Cassie left SGV to attend the University of California
  • She returned after meeting her husband and falling in love
  • They bought and opened their own Optometry Practice in the area

WHAT IS CASSIE’S CONNECTION TO THE SAN GABRIEL VALLEY (SGV)?

Cassie was born in Vietnam but spent the majority of her life in SGV in Monterey Park. Her parents immigrated to SGV from Vietnam when Cassie was just two years old.

Cassie stayed in SGV for pretty much except for about a decade during her college years. Like many folks, she found her way back to SGV.

WHAT WAS CASSIE’S EXPERIENCE OF GROWING UP IN MONTEREY PARK AS AN IMMIGRANT?

Cassie notes that the perspective is different for children compared to adults.

As a child, everyone around Cassie was Asian, which gave her a sense of familiarity, but she wasn’t able to feel or pick up on the class disparity.

As an adult looking back, she realizes that they were a poor, immigrant, working-class family. But, it didn’t negatively impact her outlook growing up.

Everything felt “normal”; however, looking back, she now fully understands the struggles her family dealt with and how fluidly her parents navigated them.

HOW DID CASSIE’S PARENTS FEEL RAISING A FAMILY IN MONTEREY PARK?

Cassie’s parents worked tirelessly in sweatshops to provide all that they could for Cassie and her three siblings.

Cassie’s mom would get up around 6 a.m. and not get home until 8 or 9 p.m., so she would hardly see her children. On the other hand, Cassie’s father took on the “maternal role.”

He worked at the sweatshops in the morning but would take the kids to school, make dinner, and care for the kids.

HOW HAVE CASSIE’S CHILDHOOD EXPERIENCES IMPACTED HER OWN CHILDREN’S UPBRINGING IN SGV?

Cassie has two children, and she has found that raising her own children in San Gabriel Valley is incredibly humbling after experiencing her own childhood.

She wants to emphasize to her children that they cannot take for granted all of the opportunities that they have here in SGV and in America. Not everyone has the same chance to succeed, thrive, and live a comfortable life.

In the back of her mind, she has a fear that despite their current middle-class lifestyle, it could all be taken away within an instant.

DID CASSIE EXPERIENCE ANY RACISM?

Cassie did not feel it as much in SGV as she did when she was 18 and went away to college. Her father viewed her college acceptance as a lottery ticket and emphatically encouraged her to leave the University of California in Santa Cruz.

She noticed that the education system there was not designed for everyone to succeed and make it, especially people of color.

Thankfully, a lot of the minorities who were first-time college students in their families rallied around each other and helped everyone study.

WHAT WOULD CASSIE SUGGEST TO SOMEONE IN A MINORITY FAMILY AND NERVOUS ABOUT LEAVING THEIR HOME?

Cassie would suggest having faith over fear.

The difficult times and struggles are when we as people grow so much, so Cassie would strongly advocate for students living in SGV to explore other opportunities and schools.

Students can build community and find relationships anywhere; they just need to try.

WHAT ELSE WOULD CASSIE RECOMMEND?

One book she recommends is Financial Peace University.

This book was a game changer for Cassie and the way her life was expected to go. In her community, the idea was to go to school, get a job, and make something of her life.

However, she never learned how to save money or how to manage money.

It’s not even just a family issue. Cassie felt school and college never taught this valuable knowledge either.

Cassie ended up taking a class at her local church that taught Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University. The book taught her more than she ever learned in college, in her opinion.

DID THIS LACK OF BUSINESS AND FINANCIAL KNOWLEDGE NEGATIVELY IMPACT CASSIE AS A SMALL BUSINESS OWNER?

Cassie absolutely believes that without having someone experienced to “show you the ropes,” you’re going to learn all everything you need to know about small business through failures.

And these failures ultimately end up being financial losses at the end of the day. It’s learning business the hard way, but it isn’t the wrong way, and there is nothing to be ashamed of if this is the way you traverse the small business world.

The amount of growth you feel at the end of the day is spectacular. However, taking advantage of resources, mentors, and community is something business owners should seek.

WHAT WAS CASSIE’S DREAM WHEN SHE CAME BACK TO SAN GABRIEL VALLEY?

Cassie met her husband, fell in love, and decided to move back to SGV with him.

Her husband is an optometrist, and while she was nervous about diving into the world of entrepreneurship, she wanted to help support her husband.

They ended up buying a practice together, but it was riddled with struggles.

One mistake she quickly realized was that the area had changed over the years – neighbors of Asian Americans who had spoken English when Cassie was growing up now spoke Chinese.

They ended up having to relocate the business.

WHAT STRUGGLES DID CASSIE FACE BUYING AN EXISTING OPTOMETRY PRACTICE?

One aspect that Cassie overlooked when she and her husband bought an existing practice was the expectations patients had based on the previous business.

She quickly noticed that the previous optometry business was not conducting business ethically, as patients would tell Cassie about services that were never charged for and what fees were typically waived.

They expected Cassie and her husband to honor the same “discounts,” so to speak.

WHAT WAS IT LIKE FOR CASSIE TO WORK WITH HER HUSBAND?

Nowadays, Cassie finds herself more behind the scenes. But, she admits early on it was a bit of a challenge.

They both have very strong personalities, but at the end of the day, they are working towards the same goal of creating a valuable and successful practice.

 

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