A Note Of Appreciation For A Blessed Life

Romben Aquino and family
This week marks my 40th birthday. As one can imagine, this event has made me very contemplative about my professional goals and my personal aspirations.

First, I made it to 40. Unfortunately, there are a lot of painful ways to die and so far, I have managed to avoid them.

I have been blessed with a number of opportunities — a good education, a well-worn passport, the kindness and generosity of friends. I have been blessed by a great family, and I strive to be worthy of the family name: to be a good son, a good brother, a good uncle, a good husband, and a good father.

I have been a lawyer for over a decade. When I graduated from law school, I did not have plans to become an immigration lawyer. To be honest, I thought that if I practiced immigration, I would end up doing a lot of my mom’s relatives’ petitions pro bono.

I have been doing immigration exclusively since 2005. I stumbled into my first immigration job as a result of a number of happy coincidences. A friend of mine forwarded me a job listing that she received from her law school classmate, who was trying to help out alums of his law school. So, when I showed up at the interview, one of the questions was “Hmmm, we were expecting a bunch of NYLS grads, how did you get here?” I guess my answer didn’t blow them away; I didn’t get the job. They chose someone who went to NYLS after all.

About a month later, though, I got a call from the firm: “Hey, um, it didn’t work out with the other lawyer. You still available?” (Sorry NYLS, I stole a spot intended for one of your alums. Someday, I will hire a NYLS grad here in Pasadena and you will know the debt is repaid.)

I have had the same mentor for nearly twenty years. He inscribed this story in a book he gave me for my college graduation:

One day, I was walking down the beach just before dawn. In the distance, I saw an old man picking up stranded starfish and throwing them back into the sea. As I approached the old man, I asked, “What are you doing?” The old man explained that the stranded starfish would die if left in the morning sun. And I exclaimed, “But there must be thousands of starfish. How can you possibly make any difference?” The old man picked up a starfish next to my feet and as he threw it to safety in the sea, he said, “I just made a difference to that one!”

There are many unhappy lawyers, but I am one of the lucky ones. I have found a field of law that I enjoy, and I love my clients. I like to think that I am the old man — helping make a difference to the thousands and thousands of immigrants in Los Angeles, one at a time. But I realize that it has been my clients who have touched me. It is they who have chosen me to entrust with their futures, their children’s futures.

I hope that I get to continue doing this for another 40 years, maybe even another 40 after that. When I am gone, I hope my son can tell his friends that he loved that his father was an honorable, decent man who tried to do right by the world and his clients. Oh, and funny thing about my mom: she is one of my top five sources of client referrals.

So, whether my mom sent you or you got here through a series of happy coincidences, I’ll be happy to talk to you by telling me how I may get a hold of you.