He admitted that he couldn't speak English when he first got to America, but he was chasing that American dream. That's when he met Pinkett Smith and told her of his dreams to be on television, to which she responded he'd need to learn English "The next day a friend of hers came to my place in South Central and said, 'I'm your new English teacher,'" Millan recalled. "So because of Jada, I speak English."
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'Poverty Makes You Strong'
It's not just about opportunities that exist in America, it's about the quality of the opportunities. "I wanted to be a vet," he said. "But because I come from a low income family, it was impossible for them to send me to a vet school."
That was a step up from his prior dream. He admitted that when he was 10 he told his mother he wanted to be a drug dealer, "because where I'm from, those are role models."
"There you go, that's what we had," Pinkett Smith agreed. Both agreed that "poverty makes you strong." Living through those experiences gives you a strength to fight through anything.
It was that strength that gave him the courage to face the American border, and even more harrowing, the dangers on the Mexican side of the border. "They can sell you. They can kill you for organs. That is more likely than jumping it," he said. "So it's not a piece of cake. I'm respectful about it, I know I broke a boundary and a rule, but it was for a dream."
Before finally crossing the border for good, Millan admitted, "Many times I let the border patrol catch me, because Americans feed you. So when they catch you, they feed you. Mexican police don't feed you." This was a way for him to save the $100 his father had given him.
Once in America, he made his way to Los Angeles and started calling up dog kennels. "I knew I had to start from the bottom and cleaning kennels is not a problem. Those are the jobs that immigrants, we get," he said. "We don't get the middle or the pack jobs, we don't get the top of the pack jobs, we get the back of the pack."
He described America as not just a land of opportunities, but a land of "quality of opportunities."
"I come from a low-income family. You have fate, you have passion, you have instinct," he said. "That's how you survive."
Even with all the success, Millan suffered severe depression after the collapse of his first marriage. "The ex-wife was not an animal person," he said. "We were not compatible. Right away you don't take it as a lesson, you take it as a curse. Often you take it upon yourself like you did something wrong. And that's when I wanted to commit suicide."
When Adrienne Banfield-Norris asked him how he got to that point, Milan answered succinctly: "Failure. The feeling of failure. 'I'm not good enough.' You're talking to yourself. Nobody's putting you in that hole. You're pretty much digging the hole and doing that to yourself."
Pinkett Smith added, "I felt really helpless at that time with not knowing exactly how to help."
"[But] you did," he insisted. "I never really went away because I always had that anchor with Jada." They described it as a kinship dating back nearly three decades, where they touch base with one another and have been there for each other during the darker chapters of their lives.
For Millan it was getting back to the beginning. "I went into a place where I wasn't doing things for me," he said. "I needed to gain back how I came to America. I did it because I love myself and I believe in myself."