As the daughter of an immigrant, I grew up believing the “American Dream” was real. It was the basis for my family’s migration to the U.S. If you work hard enough, you can reach all your dreams, or so it goes. But I knew many people, relatives and peers, who worked just as hard as or even harder than I did who were nowhere near reaching their dreams. Why?
I found my answer at community college. My sociology professor wanted to have us do an activity to show us the reality of the so called “American Dream”. We all lined up against a brick wall, and she began to read off statements. If a statement applied to us we either took a step forward or a step back. The goal was to get far away from the wall across a grass field, which represented reaching the “American Dream”. One by one she read statements that, she said, would be used to determine if we would reach the “American Dream” in this country.
“If you own a car, step forward.”
“If your parents went to college, take a step forward.”
“If your first language was English, take a step forward.”
“If you’ve had a close relative in prison, take a step back.”
“If English isn’t your first language, take a step back.”
These statements continued for the whole class period. When it was all over, we were supposed to gage how far we were to the wall and how close were to reaching the “American Dream”. My classmates all looked around to see how far others were to the goal. I didn’t have to turn because everyone else was in front of me; I was still standing at the wall. The worst part about the activity was that most of the statements weren’t even related to things that I could control.
Essentially, how the world would view me had already been determined without my consent. This wasn’t the first time I was reduced to being another statistic, and I certainly wasn’t the first it happened to either. But what made me different? My educational advancement. Although I haven’t reached my goals yet, I’m a step closer than many just because I continued onto higher education.
Lucky isn’t the right word to explain how I’m currently attending one of the best universities in the nation, USC (I guess that’s debatable), and closer to achieving the “American Dream”. Perhaps happenstance? Whichever it may be, I’m not any more special than the kids I went to high school with who are also considered to be nothing more than a statistic. I was blessed with a supportive family and a few amazing teachers who truly believed I was capable of success.
However, the fact is, not all kids are given the same opportunities that I’ve experienced being in honors or AP classes. Our current education system is failing so many kids who are deemed lost causes because of situations they have no control over. In order for the “American Dream” to truly become a reality, we must reform our educational system so that it benefits EVERY student.