“Sometimes immigrants call living the American Dream simply providing a better life for their kids. Immigrants working grocery stores, laundromats and the like to provide for their kids. But that is not my definition. While there are exceptions—immigrants who have wild success in America—understand that for every amazing story there are thousands if not millions of stories where immigrants and their descendants continue to strive to reach for more. Sometimes the “American Dream” can take a while. Generations.
My father immigrated in 1958 as a student. His goal was to become a teacher and researcher. He has all sorts of stories of arriving in America with only $700, relying on fellow immigrant strangers he just met for basics like a place to stay. He didn’t realize his dream. He didn’t make tenure—despite his research being adapted by the entire industry. Possibly (probably) working in a white-dominated industry in a white- dominated department had something to do with it. Then the 1970s Recession hit. He ultimately opened up a photocopy/print store to pay the bills. My mother is Sansei. Third generation Japanese-American. Her father had worked hard, climbed the ladder of success. My grandfather was a hospital CEO at the time of Pearl Harbor. My mother’s family was sent to the internment camps. They lost their house, their assets. Mid-life, my grandfather was forced to start over. After the war, my grandmother opened a sewing school to pay the bills. (My mother became a librarian, but had a stroke in her
40s. My dad has cared for her for nearly 40 years.) So I heard their message. Become a
doctor, my parents said. How many Asian kids heard this growing up? It’s the safer path. So I did. And yes, I enjoy financial security. Something my parents did not have. Lots of Asian doctors, right? That’s good. America needs doctors. But how many Mozarts, Jobs, Einsteins, Baryshnikovs, and Kings do we not have because they are doctors? It probably wouldn’t have been me, but we’ll never know. What did we lose? In a slightly d”ifferent way, less stressful to be sure, I am doing as my parents did. Working for the next generation — their educations, their long-term futures. But my message is different: You have a safety net. Pursue your dreams. Let’s see what you can really do.”