Hi, guys! I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I am to share this book with all of you. Whether you’ve stuck by me from day one—when I was still in the military, posting shaky YouTube videos out of my tiny bedroom—or recently became a part of my online community or simply picked up this book because you were intrigued by the cover (it’s pretty cute, huh?), I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for embarking on this journey with me.
“Dulce Candy”—the name my very imaginative parents gave me—translates to “sweet candy” in Spanish. Sure, it gets a few giggles now and again, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. I consider my name a constant reminder to never ever lose sight of the sweet things in my life. One of the absolute sweetest is the support of the viewers who keep coming back to my YouTube channel day after day. It’s all the proof I need that my whirlwind of a life has taken me exactly where I need to be.
Here’s what’s weird: Though I’ve loved everything about makeup—the dizzying spectrum of colors, the pretty packages, that instantly recognizable scent—long before YouTube was invented, I never actually planned on becoming a vlogger, or a beauty guru for that matter. In fact, for a long time I didn’t think I’d become much of anything. Just like so many of us, I went through some tough times, the toughest of which were in high school. As you’ll soon find out, joining the military after graduating was a transformative experience. It set me on a path that would eventually shape me into the woman I am today. A woman who knows her strengths yet learns from her weaknesses. A woman who is her own boss yet still understands the power of teamwork. A woman who came out on top despite the odds.
My job has given me opportunities to work with incredible brands like L’Oréal, CoverGirl, and Virgin America. My work has been recognized by major publications (thanks, Women’s Wear Daily and People StyleWatch!) and I was even chosen as one of Latina magazine’s “Latinas of the Year” in 2013. I still have to pinch myself sometimes to make sure it’s all real.
But let’s get something straight: The Sweet Life is a book about you. Sure, my name may be on it, and there’s lots of personal stuff about me and the lessons I’ve learned over the course of my life within its pages, but I wrote this book to help you find happiness and success. My goal is not only to give you real-life tools for tackling the roadblocks you’re bound to encounter on your journey but also to help you see that the strength you need to get through them in one piece has been inside you all along. And I’m here to help you tap into it.
So how do I plan on doing this? Well, by being totally, unabashedly honest about the mistakes that taught me valuable lessons, the failures that led to unforeseen opportunities, and, of course, the wins (both big and small) that gave me the motivation to keep at it. With each chapter we’ll dive into some really juicy stuff, like the importance of knowing your self-worth, the magic that comes with discovering your passion, and the value in embracing fear. I’ll also throw out suggestions for steps you can start taking toward success pretty much right away. Let’s get started!
In the past few years, I have achieved success far beyond what I ever imagined was possible. I have a great career doing what I love most. I get to travel the world and meet the amazing people who watch my videos on YouTube. I have a beautiful house in a beautiful neighborhood that I share with my sweet husband, Jesse, and my son, Izek. I won’t lie—it’s a pretty great life. A sweet life, in fact. But that wasn’t always the case.
If you’ve watched my channel, you know a little about my past—I was born in Mexico, immigrated to the United States with my family when I was little, grew up in California, served in the military, and then launched my YouTube channel to wild success. That’s the gist of it, but it’s far from the whole story.
In reality, nothing is that simple in life—especially not in mine. I’ve been blessed with so much—an amazing, tight-knit family being the most important—but there were a lot of disappointments and failures, too, and I could have easily ended up on a very different path. Ultimately, I’m going to spend most of this book sharing my secrets for success, and I hope my story inspires you to do what you love, challenge yourself, and reach your full potential. But before we launch into that, I want to share a bit about my beginnings, so if you’re out there struggling, wondering if you’ll ever have the opportunities you hope for, or thinking about giving up completely, you’ll learn that no matter how dark things get, there is hope.
Coming to America
I was born in the summer of 1987 in Michoacán, a western state in Mexico where the majority of the population made their living in agriculture, fishing, or crafts. My father, Jaime Tejeda, was one of eight kids born to a poor family from a tiny rural town outside Michoacán. He never went to college but was able to get a respectable job as a banker, allowing him to support my mom, Maria Teresa, me, and my sisters, Cynthia Lizbeth and Ivette Paulina, in a modest yet comfortable and happy home.
One of my first memories as a kid is watching my dad leave for the office in his tailored suit, his hair combed back, with a shiny leather briefcase in tow. To me, he looked important and strong, much like the superheroes from my morning cartoons. His careful approach to dressing and grooming was something I picked up on right away. Though we weren’t rich by any means, his job was important and came with quite a bit of status, and he always made sure his immaculate appearance reflected that.
My mom would send my dad off with a peck on the cheek, then take her post in the kitchen to make her signature chilaquiles (lightly fried tortillas smothered in salsa verde) for me and my sisters. Then it was off to kindergarten for Cynthia and me while my mother took care of Ivette Paulina and managed the Tejeda household.
When Cynthia and I got home, we’d head straight to the backyard to play with our dogs and pet donkeys (yes, we had donkeys). Our mom continued her chores and took breaks to chase us around the yard as we played our favorite game, escondidas, a Mexican version of hide-and-seek. We’d spend entire afternoons in the sun running around without a care in the world, heading inside only when we heard our dad pull up to the house from work.
Dinnertime was sensory overload: the smell of homemade tortillas sizzling on the skillet, the kids shrieking over one another for a chance to spill the highlights of the day. Cynthia Lizbeth was the oldest and, naturally, also the loudest. But my dad always made sure I got a chance to fill him in on my day’s important events (“Cynthia scraped her knee! I found a bird’s nest!”). Ivette Paulina, who was just a toddler back then, would happily giggle along as the rest of us chatted.
Life was good. We weren’t rich, but we were safe and taken care of and happy. Unbeknownst to us kids, however, our parents were making plans to leave it all behind.
I know what you’re probably thinking: If life was so great for our family, why did my parents decide to leave Mexico? I have often wondered the same thing, and to be honest, I’ll never really understand why we moved. According to my parents, in addition to wanting to get away from Mexico’s not-so-great economic situation, immigrating to the US was simply the fashionable thing to do at the time. America was considered the land of opportunity, and the middle class was booming. There were endless possibilities for hardworking families looking for a higher standard of living. My parents had many family members and friends who had already made the move to the States. Their whispers of bigger and better opportunities were getting too loud to ignore. To me, America might as well have been a made-up place. I was so content with my life that the thought of living somewhere else never even crossed my mind, and my parents kept their plans to themselves during the two years they were planning the move.
When I was four years old, my dad traveled to Oxnard, California, to visit his brother Miguel, who had moved there nineteen years before and had found a job on a farm. My dad planned to visit for a month to use up his acquired time off at the bank, get a sense of the place, and then return to Mexico so he and my mom could start the lengthy immigration process. (Due to strict policies at the time, immigrating to America legally was virtually impossible without getting buried under mountains of paperwork and years of waiting.) To kill time and make a few bucks while Uncle Miguel was at work, my dad took a temporary job working on the same farm Uncle Miguel worked on.
And then something unexpected happened. He started to like working in the fields! Apparently, there had been rumors flying around his office that, due to the failing economy, the bank might go under, and my dad had realized his job was not as secure as he’d thought. Not only that, but he was making almost as much money on the farm as he had back home, with a lot more job security.
My father felt the opportunities for growth, financial stability, and success in the US were worth swapping his prestigious banking job for manual work. So rather than return home, he and my mom decided that it was best he stay in America and continue working on the farm until the rest of us could join him in California. My dad would continue to work on that farm for the next twenty-two years.
Meanwhile, my mother was left on her own to raise us in Mexico. As far as my sisters and I were concerned, it was business as usual. We were constantly reassured that we’d all be reunited very soon, though because we were so young, no one bothered to mention that the reunion would happen in America. To save money for the transition and allow my mom to take care of us full-time without having to worry about the bills, we moved in with our grandmother, our dad’s mom, Mama Irene. My mom did such a good job of maintaining our daily routine—kindergarten, playtime, plenty of hugs and laughs—that other than missing our dad, my sisters and I were hardly aware that anything was different. We were still happy, no worries at all.
Now that I’m a mother myself, I can understand what a huge gamble my mom was taking. Keeping three little girls feeling secure while you’re completely in the dark about what the future holds is no small feat. When asked about that time now, she shrugs and says that she did what she had to do for her family. I am still amazed at her strength and perseverance in the face of so much uncertainty.
As soon as my father felt stable, he arranged for us to meet him in the US. In the summer of 1994—two years after he left for America—he paid a pair of guides, or coyotes, that he found through acquaintances 3,000 pesos (about $220) to transport my mother, sisters, and me across the Mexico-US border. Though this was by no means legal, and coyotes were known to be a dangerous bunch, my parents had no choice but to trust them and hope for the best.
At six years old, you don’t really question your parents when they tell you you’re moving, but I do remember wondering why my mom was saying tearful good-byes to all her friends. Weren’t we going to come back? I was confused, but as soon as I thought about seeing my dad again, all my questions and fears disappeared.
The first stop on our journey to California was a downtrodden motel on the Mexican side of the border a few hours away from Michoacán. The room was filthy and crawling with cockroaches. My mother refused to let us sit on the beds—not that any of us would want to. Our two guides were there waiting for us. A few hours before we planned to set out, they led us to the roof of the motel so we could get a preview of what lay ahead of us. From our perch, we watched as groups of other hopeful emigrants just like us jumped a fence and quickly scattered, only to be chased down by la migra (border patrol) in their huge black SUVs.
Watching all of this happen, I realized, for the first time, that I should be scared. My heart began to pound. My mom had done such a good job keeping the details of our move to herself, my sisters and I had no idea what to expect. The guides explained that the people going ahead of us were examples of what not to do. They told us to avoid la migra’s SUVs at all costs. Instead of running, we were supposed to hide behind rocks and bushes to keep from being spotted by the bright headlights as they swept across the landscape in search of movement. As far as instructions went, they couldn’t be any clearer: Stay hidden and be quiet.
My mother, sisters, and I waited in that dingy motel room until the clock struck two a.m. Go time. Our group scurried quietly to the fence. My mom went first, followed by the guides, who carried my sisters and me so we wouldn’t fall behind. As I clung to the shoulders of my guide, I kept my eyes shut, thinking that if I couldn’t see the immigration officers, they wouldn’t be able to see me either.
I remember thinking how quickly we got to the other side. With us still tightly gripping their backs, the guides stayed low to the ground, crawling from rock to rock to avoid getting spotted by those headlights. Soon, curiosity overpowered fear, and I opened my eyes to watch the fence get smaller and smaller behind us.
We crawled for what felt like ages (in reality, the entire hike took no more than a few hours) until we came to a river called El Rio Grande (I later found out that a lot of people have drowned attempting the cross). Although I was tired and hungry, I knew complaining was out of the question. Ivette Paulina whimpered as we waded into the water, so I shot her a stern look. Thankfully, she seemed to understand my message to stay calm. Without even realizing exactly when it happened, we were out of the water and smack-dab in the middle of American suburbia. It was a different world compared to the one we’d left behind only a few hours ago. The simple stone houses and apartment buildings we knew were replaced by tract homes with lush green lawns and perfectly spaced streetlamps. We couldn’t help but stop and stare until the guides reminded us to hurry along.
As our group weaved in and out of the streets and alleyways, making sure to stay hidden, our guides ran up driveways to pull at garage door handles in hopes of coaxing one open. My gut was telling me that sneaking around like this in the dark was bad and dangerous. I’d always relied on my mom to point out what’s right and wrong, so whenever I started to feel anxious, I’d glance up to gauge her emotions, half expecting her to shoot me the stern look she’d usually give me when I misbehaved. But when we caught eyes, she gave me a quick smile and squeezed my hand. I took that as reassurance that even though this situation was far from normal, it was something we had to do.
After many attempts, a door finally slid up and in we went. That’s how we spent our very first night in America: sleeping in the garage of a stranger who didn’t even know we were there.
Once the sun came up, we left the garage and continued on foot to San Diego, where the guides said their curt good-byes and directed us to the airport. While my sisters and I were excited to see an airplane, my mom was desperately trying to keep her cool. This was the first time we were truly on our own, and we spoke virtually no English. To make sure we didn’t do anything to arouse suspicion, my mom invented a “game” for us to play. The rules were simple: We had to pretend that we were Americans who had every right to be at that airport.
My mom bought each of us a can of Coke (which, according to her, was what Americans drank), and we casually sipped our sodas as we walked through the airport. It worked. One of the guides had purchased our tickets earlier, and we got through security with zero complications, then quickly boarded the tiny commuter plane to Los Angeles.
As exhausted as my sisters and I were, we clambered over the armrests to look through the window at takeoff until we couldn’t keep our eyes open anymore and dozed off. As we slept, my mom stayed on high alert. Even after we landed and proceeded to walk to the parking lot to meet my father and uncle, she didn’t allow herself to relax. I could sense her tensing every time we passed a person in uniform. I’d never seen my happy, giggly mom act this way before: She saw everyone as a potential threat—from the TSA agent casually checking the line, to the flight attendants rushing to catch their flights—convinced they could all see right through us. If we were caught, we would’ve been sent right back to Mexico and the entire ordeal would’ve been for nothing.
My mother was barely thirty years old, not much older than I am right now, when she came to America with three kids in tow. Every time I think about her bravery, I’m overcome with gratitude and respect. Many years later my mother told me she was terrified of our guides the whole time we were in their care. Even before we set out on our journey, my mother was warned by others who’d crossed the border by way of coyotes that sexual assault was a very real threat for women making the trek alone. Because she was traveling with three young girls, the threat was even greater. Thankfully, my sisters and I were so young and naive that we didn’t even understand such an awful scenario was possible, but for my mother, the fear for our innocence was very real.
When we walked out of the airport and saw my father waiting for us, my mother finally relaxed and leapt into his arms. It was jarring how tanned and weather-beaten my father looked. The crisp suit I expected to see him in had been replaced by dusty jeans, a flannel shirt, and work boots, but as far as I was concerned, his new look suited him just fine. He was still my dad, and we were finally a family again.
Home Sweet Home
Life in America was harder than it had been in Mexico, but in many ways it was the same. After a week or so of getting acclimated, my mother took a job on the same farm as my dad. My sisters and I started going to school right away. Picking up English was a breeze thanks to English as a Second Language classes. We spent our free time playing with the neighbor kids, running through the sprinklers over and over again until we were drenched.
Even though neither of my parents earned a lot of money, when it came time for dinner, we always had heaps of warm, delicious food on the table. And no matter how tired they were, my mom and dad would always ask us about what we learned at school and check in on whether we had done our homework. To save money, we rented a small trailer on the farm. Sure, things got a little snug—especially after my baby sister, Wendy Teresita, was born a year after our move—but my memories of that time are still fond. With so many people around, there wasn’t an opportunity for any of us to feel lonely. Plus, our location provided tons of outdoor space where we could stretch our legs when things got a little crazy inside.
I realize now that, in spite of all the happy times we had together, my parents were struggling. For twenty-two years my father drove tractors around the fields to soften the dirt for crops, and my mother either gathered onions or worked the checkout aisle at Target, sometimes for as long as twelve hours a day. My parents had given up their middle-class life in Mexico so they could perform backbreaking labor in the hopes that their daughters would have the opportunity to do more—to go to college, have a career, earn enough to have a home and family and plenty of time to relax and enjoy life.
And as grateful as I was, and as much as I loved my parents, I came dangerously close to throwing all of that opportunity down the drain.
I was a very happy kid, and when I was around my family and at home on the farm, I could be extremely outgoing and silly. Many of the photos from my childhood show me making a goofy face or giving one of my sisters bunny ears. But whenever I was around new people or in an unfamiliar environment, my spunkiness turned to shyness like that. I chalk it up to coming from a tight-knit family who knew me inside and out. I was comfortable around them, but strangers made me turn inward like a turtle retreating into its shell.
Because of this, I had a hard time making friends at school and was always envious of the kids, especially the girls, in my class who, I felt, were everything I wasn’t—pretty, outgoing, popular, confident. At home, I felt unconditionally loved for who I was, but at school, I started comparing myself to other people. What they had—video games, CD players, the latest big-name sneakers—I didn’t. (It didn’t help that most of my clothes came secondhand from the Salvation Army since my parents couldn’t afford to buy brand-new clothes for four rapidly growing girls.)
As a result, I did what so many girls do—I vied for the attention of the popular girls, the girls I wanted to be like, the girls who I desperately wanted to like me. There was one girl in particular, Bethany, who I looked up to as soon as I laid eyes on her. She was bubbly, and the teachers liked her, and for some reason, she took an interest in me. Unfortunately, Bethany turned out to be a fickle friend. You know the type: One moment she’d be saving a seat for me on the bus and whispering secrets into my ear, and the next she’d pretend she didn’t even know who I was, or be angry at me for no reason. One time she even forced me to give her my prized sticker collection. If you are a child of the nineties, you know just how important stickers were, especially the Spice Girls ones. I had spent months collecting all of my favorites, and I loved being able to show them off to the other girls in class. Then one day Bethany told me she wouldn’t be my friend anymore unless I gave her my beloved stickers. So I handed them over to her, and hid my face so she wouldn’t see me cry.
Looking back now, I realize that Bethany probably suffered from her own feelings of inadequacy, no matter how perfect she appeared to be. She was a bully, someone who felt the need to put me down so she could feel better about herself. The only reason she pretended to be my friend was because she saw I was weak and knew she could take advantage. I don’t want to imply that Bethany was some sort of sociopath—at some point, we’ve all treated someone badly who didn’t deserve it. And I don’t want to imply that Bethany is the reason I felt bad about myself. Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” If I had felt good about myself, I would never have allowed Bethany, or anyone, to treat me that way. But because I was self-conscious and didn’t feel like I was good enough, Bethany was able to hurt me all the more.