Nov. 16 2009 12:00 AM
Even from the other side of the world, I knew that America was the land of opportunity for everyone. This was what Carlos Chavarria said to me when I asked him what made him come to the United States. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s go back— back to Guatemala, to a city called Jutiapa. That’s where Chavarria was born more than 45 years ago. His father was a mason who got into the landscape business; he worked on commercial as well as residential properties.

Life was very hard, but as a kid growing up, Chavarria didn’t realize just how difficult it was. When all your friends are in the same position, you accept things as they are.

When Chavarria was nine years old, he would go to school and when school let out, he would meet his father and work alongside him. “I remember in those days,” he remarked. “We used to mow the lawns with a reel push mower, and edge them with machetes. We only had primitive tools to work with—that was all we had.”

All during the time Chavarria was going to middle school and through high school, he worked with his father after school. Chavarria began to enjoy working in the landscape business so much that he decided to forgo college and went to work full time with his father. In addition to masonry and landscaping, Chavarria and his father also worked digging wells for water. They dug all the wells by hand; in fact, almost everything they did was hand labor.

Chavarria’s dream was to move to the United States one day and start a new life in the land of opportunity. He married and had two daughters, all the while working with his father. He wasn’t afraid of hard work; heck, he was used to that. But he never gave up on his dream. The thought of having the opportunity to grow and perhaps have a business, raise a family and take advantage of all that the United States had to offer constantly filled his mind.

Chavarria had a sister living in Redondo Beach, California. He also had a friend who moved from Guatemala to the United States. His friend lived in Stamford, Connecticut, and was in the landscape business.

When his personal life hit some bumps in the road, he decided that was the time to make some changes. He separated from his wife and decided to move to the United States. He applied for a visa and was allowed to immigrate to the land of his dreams.

At the age of 29, with visa in hand, Chavarria immigrated to Redondo Beach, California. He did some construction work and got a job working on a crew with a landscape company. He knew the landscape business, but he had to learn how to use the power equipment. “It was hard to learn at the beginning, but it was much easier on my body. It was such a drastic change from the hard labor I was used to,” said Chavarria. Helearned about new techniques; he learned about landscaping in America. But Chavarria felt that he could still make more out of the opportunity he had been given. He saved his money so that he could afford to buy equipment.

Then one day, as he was talking to his friend in Connecticut, the friend suggested that he move to the East Coast, where he felt there were greater opportunities. After contemplating it for a while, Chavarria decided to take the plunge and he moved to Stamford, Connecticut. He had been in California for six months. He purchased a truck and drove to Stamford.

Upon his arrival, he found a place to call home. He went out and purchased a truck, a new power-driven lawn mower and other tools. He was ready to start his own company.

He called his company Total Property Service, and worked hard to develop a clientele of steady customers. Through word of mouth, slowly but surely, Chavarria’s business grew.

Today, Total Property Service is a complete landscape company offering design/build construction, installing irrigation systems, doing maintenance, digging water wells and building water features. “When I was young and still living in Guatemala, my father taught me to be a mason,” said Chavarria. “I took that knowledge with me and masonry is now a specialty of mine.”

I asked Chavarria to compare landscaping in Guatemala with that in the United States.

“No comparison,” he said. “In Guatemala, everything was done by hand labor. Either we didn’t know about the latest power equipment or labor was so cheap and available that there was no need for it.”

Chavarria remarried, and his wife Allison helps him in the business. She has her MBA and works in the financial market as a financial advisor, in addition to being an important part of Total Property Services. His two daughters, Karen, 18, and Michelle, 20, have recently moved to their own apartment.

Chavarria is humble, and always thankful for the life he has been able to create here. “I love this country. It has afforded me opportunities that would never have been available to me in Guatemala,” he said. “If I can do it, anyone can. I am living the American dream.”