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The actor recalled a specific moment from his childhood that he will "never forget" that pushed him to pursue his dream

By Natalie Stone
January 10, 2017 04:17 PM
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People's Choice Awards Nominations Press Conference
Credit: Kevork Djansezian/Getty

Wilmer Valderrama is grateful to his immigrant parents for inspiring him to pursue his dream of becoming an actor.

At the Looking Ahead Awards on Dec. 6, Valderrama, 36, credited his mother and father — Sobeida Valderrama and Balbino A. Valderrama — for contributing to his on-screen success before presenting them with The Judy and Hilary Swank Award.

“This award truly is about the force behind the actor. It’s about the infrastructure; it’s about the heart; it’s about the heritage; it’s about the culture. It’s about who you really are before you even become who you are,” Valderrama said at the awards. “It’s about your parents; it’s about your family; but it’s the individual that at some point in your life told you that you could. The first person to believe in you before you even were born. And to me that’s worth noting.”

Valderrama was born in Miami but moved to Venezuela with his family, where his father worked as a farmer, at the age of 3. The That ’70s Show star revealed, his parents “sold everything they had” years later to return to the United States, specifically California. Their story resonates with a larger number of Americans, he noted: “It is the blueprint of this country, which is the story of an immigrant.”

He then shared a personal story from his childhood — one that he will “never forget.”

As a child, Valderrama and his sisters were responsible to walk alongside their mother multiple times each week to and from their local 99 Cents Only Store.

“We were getting cereal, we were getting ‘Cola,’ we were getting the Lucky Charms with the guy without the hat. We were getting Cocoa Puffs but spelled with a B: Cocoa Buffs,” he recalled. “But we were proud of that, because at the end of the day my parents said, ‘Hey, we’re here. We’re already winning.’ ”

The actor also recalled one specific day when he was walking with his mother from the store, both carrying their bags of purchases on the miles-long walk back to their home.

“I remember seeing my mom’s little hands and we would take little breaks on every corner. And I looked at my mom’s little hands … and I looked at my mom and I said, ‘Mom, one day we’re going to drive,’ ” Valderrama said while taking a pause to fight back tears. “She said, ‘Okay mijo.’ ”

The award was presented just two months after Valderrama walked the Texas-Mexico border on Oct. 23, meeting with local immigrants and hometown heroes and encouraging those of cross-culture heritage to “embrace their roots.”

As the star of a new Johnnie Walker campaign Keep Walking America, he opened up about his own personal immigrant experience — and why all Americans should embrace and celebrate their cultural identities.

“If you’re an American, period, you are an immigrant,” he told PEOPLE. “Retelling my story now, retelling success stories, is a great reminder that the American dream can be achieved.”