By Andrea Cummings | Better Man Conference | June 2, 2022

Reimagining The American Dream 

The United States was built on the dream of creating opportunities for a better future. This is the reason that brought me to this country 8 years ago as an immigrant from Latin America. I was hopeful, excited and scared, all at the same time. I had to make big sacrifices and leave a lot behind, including my family, community, and support network. But it was all worth it because – in my mind – the United States was like what I saw in the movies: people walking in safe neighborhoods in picture-perfect suburbia. Little did I know that the picture was not at all perfect. Little did I know that my primary language was not welcome anywhere, and that I had to work twice as hard than my white peers. Little did I know that this place I thought was a safe haven could turn into a place more scary than I ever thought possible.

Nobody talks about mass shootings in the movies, nobody talks about how racism and violence are rampant in this country, especially towards people of color. Nobody talks about children being murdered in schools, or people at church, or at the supermarket. Nobody talks about the feeling of not feeling safe anywhere because of the color of your skin, your country of birth, your gender or your sexuality.  

Nobody talks about the racism we will endure in America, or about the fact that we are not welcome. At first, we try to voice our discontent, but we soon find that our voices are not welcome. People say “shut up and be grateful you are not in Latin America anymore.” How dare we criticize the country that has allowed us to have an education or has given us opportunities?  It is hard to deal with this censorship, to think that my voice is not valued.

Imagine For A Moment Walking In My Shoes

Imagine having fled from a repressive regime that censors voices and opinions, risking all you have to arrive in a land that promises freedom….but then realizing that in this new land your voice is silenced not by a dictator but by the public – by peers – who refuse to see your value, your humanity. 

Imagine waking up in a place where everyone is speaking a foreign language. You try to learn as quickly as you can but as an adult, you have decades of phonetics at your disadvantage.  So each time you try to speak you are assaulted with an incredulous “What?” or “I can’t understand what you are saying”  Would you keep trying? Or would you perhaps try to keep silent as much as possible?  We lose so much value from our immigrant communities because American society is so selective in only accepting what is convenient. I have witnessed some Americans who are eager to celebrate Cinco de Mayo by eating tacos and drinking Tequila yet who, at the same time, tell me to go back to “my country.” This is particularly painful as it feels like they want our food and spirits, our celebrations, yet they don’t want to share them with us; they don’t want us. 

Seeing The Unseen

When we talk about the American Dream, we need to realize that for many immigrants and people of color this is only a fantasy because their reality is more like a nightmare. It is not about a lack of gratitude for the good things this country has provided us. We can be grateful and still challenge the oppressive systems that allow racism and violence to breed. We can be grateful and still hold politicians and police accountable. 

The Nightmare Is Real

When I saw what happened in Uvalde, my heart was broken because people and children of color living in this land continue to be massacred. As an immigrant, I understand the effort, the sacrifices, the grief of losing everyone and everything you know. The parents and guardians who had the courage to flee their violent, impoverished countries in order to provide better futures for their children are now seeing those children die in schools, at shops, and in places of worship. It breaks my heart to see their children murdered while doing exactly what their parents fought for: learning and educating themselves for a better future. 

The Turning Point…HOPE

When can we go back to the American Dream that allowed me to have access to exceptional education, gave me the opportunity to build financial stability, and allowed me to create the success that I see in my life?  

This is the hope I have, that we remember that the founding fathers of this country were immigrants. Somewhere along the path, we have derailed and I believe this is an opportunity to reimagine what that dream looks like so that we can build one that is accessible to all. An American Dream where our children are not afraid in their classrooms, the one in which immigrants and marginalized folks have the same opportunities as everybody else, and the one in which we all feel loved, seen, heard and valued. But how? By coming together, by remembering our humanity, and by starting with our hearts. In order to do that, we all need to have a role, and we all need to take action. 

How Can You Help

Here are a few ideas and resources where you can begin (or continue) your journey as an ally:

#stopgunviolence #stoptheNRA #guncontrol #uvaldemassacre #guncontrolnow #antiracism #bettermanmovement #bettermanconference #dei #buffalostrong #saytheirnames #stopthehate #fightracism

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