Opinion: Redefining the American Dream
El Diario La Prensa columnist Dolores Prida had vowed not to write about the American Dream again until she rediscovered its meaning, but Paul Ryan and a book on the subject changed her mind. The piece ran Oct. 4 and was translated from Spanish.
I had decided to place an embargo on writing columns about the “American Dream” until I had rediscovered its meaning, but something always happens that forces me to return to the subject.
Two things happened: one, vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan said that only 70 percent of Americans believe in the American Dream. I immediately saw an opportunity for immigrants to fill the gap.
The other thing was the publication this week of the English version of the book “El despertar del sueño americano” (literally, Awakening from the American Dream) from my Venezuelan colleague Pilar Marrero, political reporter at Los Angeles’ La Opinión, a sister publication of this newspaper. The book is an excellent, detailed and moving chronicle of this country’s immigrant roots and a warning about the wave of nativist hostility immigrants have been facing for more than a decade, and the danger this represents for the nation.
It’s often said that translation is treason, since usually something from the original is always lost because many words alter their essence when changed to another language. In this case the title in English, rendered as “Killing the American Dream,” is a stab in the back of the book’s argument: it’s the immigrants who have kept, and always will keep, the American Dream alive, replenishing the labor force with fresh muscle, never giving up hope and optimism about the future, which are the drivers of economic growth.
The change in the title is due to the English version being published by a different publisher who suggested it to the author. “Anglos need to be more alarmed about this issue,” said Marrero, who agreed to the change.
That’s true because too many people do not understand the connection between immigration and economic development in a consumer society. Yet, the concept of “killing the American Dream” sounds too negative and places the destiny of our dreams in the hands of others. Dreams belong to the individual and only he or she and his or hers circumstances can kill them, regardless of what others do.
On the other hand, if we awaken from a dream, we can always close our eyes again and re-take the thread or we can dream a different version of the dream, perhaps dusted by a certain amount of reality.
Originally, the American Dream was understood as the desire to work hard, take advantage of available opportunities and one day have a house, a car or two, 2.5 children and a cute little dog.
But that wasn’t the initial dream must immigrants arrived with. It was to work hard, save money, then return to the town where they came from to build a little house or open a small business. For those who came here for political reasons, the initial dream was to wait for the dictator to die or the revolution to fail, then they could go back to make things as they were before they left.
About a third of all immigrants, with and without papers, eventually return home, either because they could dream no more on a foreign land or because it was too cold or too hot or the papers never materialized.
If you take the rest of the immigrants who have decided to stay and hope and sweat doing whatever job needs doing and give them the chance to occupy that 30 percent of the population which, according to Ryan, no longer believes in the American Dream, the immigration problem could be practically eliminated.
That’s what the American Dream has shrunk to for undocumented immigrants: a piece of paper, permission to yawn and rest their head on a pillow or a rock and dream the dream that no one can kill. And wake up with renewed strength to do the job that needs doing.
It’s not too much to ask. And the country needs it.