Friday, July 22, 2016

To be Asian-American: The American Dream

There was Rock 'n' Roll, Ford Mustangs, but most importantly, the American Dream.

My parents came to America looking for a change, for a way to break free out of patriarchal traditions, and for opportunities to create a life that was their own. Neither of them had horrible lives in Taiwan, in fact they had pretty good circumstances. Both of them belonged to successful families, both were educated and they were blessed with peace surrounded by the conflicts that were all around them in Asia in the 1950s and 1960s.

In the way that Happy Days colored a time of great social strife and injustice as a feel good utopia, American music and film presented America as a place of joy, freedom and opportunity. So after my uncle, my father's older brother, settled in America, my parents followed suit and moved to the Seattle area to pursue the American Dream.

In those early days, America had its moments. My dad's first pay check went to going out to a fast food fish and chips restaurant. They served beer in frozen mugs, which my parents had never seen before. This amazed them and they really felt like they made it draining beer out of those mugs. To this day, they talk about this date as one of their favorite memories and if you look in my parents freezer, you will always see a beer mug in there.

After some time, my dad bought his dream car, a Ford Mustang. This was a legendary car in the mid-1960s that epitomize for my father everything that was great about American. Unfortunately no one told my dad that by the late 1970s when my dad got this car, the Ford Mustang was as my dad explains, a piece of crap.

That car was not the only time the American dream let my parents down. My dad worked a a dishwasher, my mom with a master degree worked as a maid and a babysitter. They constantly faced racism, (and still do to a lesser extent) and found that doors of opportunity were not open to them. Instead, they had to pry them open combatting prejudice with optimism and perseverance.

In this strange new land there were people, a few who embraced my parents differences and showed the potential for good in white America. These were neighbors, teachers and friends, who reached out and gave them hope that mainstream America could be more accepting and tolerant as it has become since my parents came to this country almost forty years ago.

My parents lives would be easier if they had stayed in Taiwan in their years as young adults. They really struggled in American. It was a hard life, but it was their life, one they created together, one they could own. Now that they are older, they have no regrets, no doubt that coming to America was one of their best decisions.

I'm very weary of the notion of the "American Dream". This idea that hard work in out country is the only thing that you need to be sucessful is simply not true. Yes, hard work was a big part of my parents success, but they also benefited from belonging to successful families, being educated, immigrating by choice, and being perceived as a model-minority . . . and of course, luck, a lot of luck. If you look at subsets of Americans who struggle with economic upward mobility they lack many of these benefits, if not all of them.

America is not defined by the rich privileged white guys who founded this country. What has made America great and continues to help us grow as a country are individuals pushing against racial and social injustice to bring us closer to the promises of our forefathers. My parents are part of this. No, my parents weren’t lawyers and they didn’t work in the government, but they came to America and proved everyone they met the value and worth of Asian Americans. In this way, they did the most important type of social change: influencing the hearts and minds of people through taking care of themselves, their community and their country.

This may not be cars or frosted mugs, but that's the real American Dream.

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