Warning: profanity ahead. I should just start all my posts with that from now on: profanity ahead.
I was scrolling through my Twitter feed recently when I saw someone had tweeted something like, What’s the biggest scam of all time?
Patriotic Americans might be shocked to learn that at least one person replied, The American Dream.
There were some pretty amusing answers that gave me hope, like The 2016 presidential election and Brexit, but seeing the American Dream in there really gave me pause.
And I had to ask myself—not for the first time, I should hasten to add—is that correct? Is the fabled American Dream exactly that? A fable? A marketing campaign?
Or even an outright scam?
What It Means To Be An American
As a lifelong American, born and bred, I feel confident saying that American citizenship is probably one of our most prized possessions. With all the nasty debate about immigration over the years, including the most petty politicians objecting to the law that a mere baby born on our soil is automatically a citizen, it’s become evident to me that most Americans value their citizenship pretty highly.
But what does it even take to be a good citizen? And does that specific legal status necessarily give every citizen a realistic shot at the fabled American dream?
All this weighs on my mind because today is supposed to be a special day for my wife and me. You see, she’s going to be sworn in as an American citizen after living here for almost seven years as a legal resident. Today should be a day of great celebration, right?
It doesn’t feel like one.
What’s So Great About It?
I’ve heard all my life that the United States of America is the greatest country on earth. (Where’s that registered trademark symbol when you need it?) But as time goes by, it’s become increasingly clear that the data doesn’t support that at all. In fact, by many objective measures—infant mortality, average lifespan, quality of healthcare for the average person—we aren’t even close.
Yet the myth persists, and American nationalists seem to believe more and more every day that “their” country is somehow being taken away from them…by people whose skin tone is a little darker than theirs.
People like my lovely, kind-hearted, generous wife.
You see, my wife is of Asian descent. And if you follow the news at all, you must be aware that Asian people in America don’t exactly feel celebratory lately.
So on this day, when my wife will take an oath to defend the United States of America, she’s feeling like a Jewish person during World War II. Not only will I not be able to go into the building with her because of the current pandemic rules—a pandemic, as you know, completely exacerbated by our asshole former president, who likes to throw around terms like Kung-Flu and China Virus—but I’ll have to sit in the parking lot anxiously waiting for my beautiful wife to walk back out of the building, a newly-minted American with a target on her back.
And I’ll be thinking, America? What’s so fucking great about it?
No Good Answer
I’m not sure I have a good answer to that question anymore. At least not a good enough one.
I’ve been thinking about a guy I knew years ago who worked with my ex. He was also an Asian legal immigrant who, like so many others, had to work hard for relatively low pay his first few years here.
His name escapes me today, but I remember his story: he had a wife and kids, and he’d had a successful business in his native country, or he could never have afforded to come here with them. He was working 60, 65 hours a week—a setup my wife faces today, at least for the time being—and although his pay was lower compared to what he’d been accustomed to back home, he and his family were scrimping and saving.
I remember the amount he had saved, because it made such an impression: he’d squirreled away $30,000. And I remember like it was yesterday, his exhausted face as he said to me, This is not American Dream.
But maybe he was wrong about that. Maybe that is the American Dream: if you come here and work harder than everyone around you, maybe you can squirrel away enough to feed your family and even send a few bucks back home.
One last story, lest I leave you with too much hope.
A friend of mine moved from Florida to Vegas not long ago. He’s been relatively careful throughout the pandemic, as he’s in his mid-60s.
So when he went to a casino last week, he was pleased to see they’re still pretty strict about enforcing masking and social distancing requirements. He felt relatively safe, I’d say, until he went to the restroom and saw a young man who had decided the rules didn’t apply to him.
My friend commented to the young man about the mask rule, to which the young man replied, Fuck you, old man, you’re going to die anyway.
Not for nothing, but nobody would say such a thing to an elder in the country where that guy who saved $30K came from; nor would anyone say such a thing in my wife’s country of origin. They respect, even revere, their elders. If I were a betting man, I’d bet the response in one of those countries would have been, Sorry, sorry, followed by a quick masking up.
But then, what the hell do I know? I’m an American.