Simply put, the American Dream is the only reason why Hispanics are here.
The pilgrims came to America as religious refugees, looking for a better place to make their lives. Hispanic immigrants come here as economic refugees, looking for a better place to make a living. We’re here because we can work here.
There are as many journeys to the US as there are Hispanics.
Some cross sweltering deserts, risking their lives and putting their trust in the hands of criminals. Others fly on American Airlines to Disney World and overstay their tourist visas.
But for all journeys, the destination is the same. We’re all seeking the American Dream.
Many people are quick to judge undocumented Hispanics, for the very evident fact that by just being here, they’re breaking the law. To those who feel that way, I simply ask them to consider the journey.
Millions have left everything they love behind, coming to a place alien in many ways. A place where the language is different. Where traditions are different. Where people don’t behave the same way as they do in our home countries.
Millions of Latinos make countless sacrifices, every day, to be able to remain here… making minimum wage by picking strawberries, cleaning restrooms, fixing roofs or assembling motors. All doing backbreaking jobs. And every one of them feeling truly blessed for the opportunity.
A few years ago I was doing market research in the “bad part” of Chicago. While in the distance skyscrapers gleamed like chiseled shards of quartz, around us it was all broken windows, faded walls and despair.
Old cars and trash peppered the streets. “Ok, this is it,” I thought to myself. “This is going to be the one time that we get mugged.”
When we got to the home of the family we were going to interview and knocked, someone cracked the door open and barked in Spanish “What?”
After I explained who we were, and that we had an appointment with the head of the family, the man grunted “wait” and slammed the door closed.
My research assistant and I stared at each other. And as we were about to leave, the door opened wide and a smiling short man welcomed us in.
“That was my cousin,” he said. “He’s staying with us and he didn’t know you were coming. Sorry about that.”
As we entered the home, I took the place in.
The inside of the house matched the decrepit outside. Worn out furniture, old mismatched curtains, a small flat screen TV that had seen better days.
Through one of the windows we could see a pickup truck that was falling apart, and the ugliest dog I had ever seen was curled up in one corner.
I thought to myself “They left everything behind for this? So much for the American Dream.”
We settled around the kitchen table and were joined by his wife and two kids. It was evident that there was a lot of love in the family.
Their story was like so many stories. He came to the US alone, settled in Chicago and found a job in construction. A couple of years later his wife and kids joined him.
As it is so common with immigrants, they were now helping out their cousin who had recently arrived and was hoping to get settled on his own soon.
After the usual pleasantries, the interview began, and it actually went very well. They were the ideal kind of consumer our client was interested in exploring.
However, during the conversation, I kept on going back to my initial thoughts: “They seem so nice and hardworking… and all those sacrifices for this!”
After we completed the discussion and were about to leave, on a whim I asked him “Tell me about the American Dream.”
I was expecting that he was going to join me in my imaginary blues, complaining about how hard everything was, how far the dream was. How not worth it it had been.
Instead, his face lit up and, beaming, he told me “I am living the American Dream!”
“In Mexico, I lived on a farm with my mom, my dad and my six brothers and sisters. We lived in a small hut with dirt floors. When it rained, we got wet. In the summer it got so hot!”
“No electricity or a bathroom. Nothing…”
“We worked the land all day long… and yet, sometimes we weren’t sure if we were going to have enough food to eat.”
“But look,” he said gesturing to his surroundings, “look at all this!”
“If it rains, we’re dry. If it’s cold outside, we’re warm. I never worry about my kids having something to eat. They’re healthy. They go to school. Look, man, I even have a flat panel TV!”
“Yeah,” his wife chimed in, “and the TV is tuned to soccer all day.”
He smiled, slightly embarrassed, and continued: “I own my truck. Yea, it ain’t pretty, but it’s paid off. I fix it up when I need to, but it takes me where I need to go.”
“And my dog! I LOVE that dog. I found him at a construction site, and he started following me. He’s a smart dog. Loves me, too. Before I came here we didn’t have enough food for the family. But here, I even have enough food to feed my dog.”
“This is my American Dream. I’m living it.”
And. I. Felt. Like. A. Jerk.
Because, you see – I had forgotten that the American Dream is relative.
I grew up in Venezuela, in a middle class family, both my parents worked. My father was a mid-level executive in a bank. My mom worked for the treasury department and taught a College class at night.
They worked hard, saved money, and paid for my education.
When in my 20’s, I decided to venture to the US, they supported me. They knew I was seeking opportunity. They wanted a better future for me and, like many parents of immigrant children, were very sad to say goodbye.
But they would have never stopped me.
I came to the US, worked hard, earned scholarships that allowed me to pay for graduate school and was fortunate enough to land jobs with Fortune 500 companies. I kept on working, my career progressed, and finally I was able to start my own firm.
So, what is my American Dream? This is it. I am living it as well.
I drive a car I really like, enjoy my job every day, and have been able to see the world.
I have family that I adore. I also have a dog that I love (and that does amazing tricks), and I can indulge myself with electronic toys, Blu-ray sci-fi movies played loud at home, and great bottles of Scotch.
The American Dream is relative. There are as many American Dreams as there are Americans. The American Dream is a powerful force. A driving force. It’s what makes us get up early in the morning and work late into the night.
Because the American Dream is real. It’s alluring. It’s attainable, and it’s worth every drop of sweat, every back pain and every tear we shed when we remember what we left behind.
We take the Dream seriously. We’re very fortunate to have it, and will never take it for granted.