Growing up in La Paz, Bolivia, Fernando Torrez was fascinated with American super hero cartoons. In 1996, when he was 12, his parents brought him and his older sister to Colorado in search of the American dream. There, he encountered real-life American heroes: cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy. “I saw them marching and admired their discipline and camaraderie,” says Torrez. “I wanted to be part of the most powerful military in the world.”
Before he could serve his new country, though, Torrez had to help his family adjust to American culture. As a young teenager, he quickly learned English to help his parents translate their mail and, eventually, help them open a catering business. “Now that I’m older I really appreciate the risk my parents took in leaving behind everything they knew,” says Torrez, now 36.
In 1997, the family moved to the Arlington, VA area, and Torrez joined the junior ROTC program affiliated with Washington Lee High School. “That program gave me the direction and structure I craved,” he said. Torrez also earned a private pilot’s license before finishing his freshman year of high school.
After graduation, Torrez served in the Air Force for nine years and achieved the rank of senior airman. In 2003, he received the prestigious Air Force Space Command Supply Airman of the Year award. The same year, he became a U.S. citizen. “It felt so good to fully belong to the country that had welcomed me and my family with open arms,” he says.
After his honorable discharge, Torrez founded NanoTech, an Alexandria-based computer repair shop. “I really believe the honor I brought from my military service gave customers a sense of trust and security in me,” he says. Today, after a decade in business, NanoTech has 10 employees, offers IT support and cyber-security services and serves accounts across Virginia. In 2015, the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce awarded Torrez the veteran-owned business of the year.
Alexandria has such a welcoming atmosphere. It doesn’t matter where you’re from. People here appreciate what immigrants bring to the table.”
Torrez also credits his success to Alexandria’s open-minded community—one that embraces diversity, including Latinos, East Africans and Eastern Europeans. He married a Polish immigrant, and they are raising a daughter and son. “Alexandria has such a welcoming atmosphere,” Torrez says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from. People here appreciate what immigrants bring to the table.”