The lost American dream

In my class today, I asked my students to define the American dream, and share whether they believed it was still alive. The go-to answer for many had to do with wealth and the neat family unit of a happy marriage, two kids and a dog.

One Asian student had a slightly different response. He admitted his perspective was skewed, calling it the "foreigner's" point of view. When he defined the American dream, he talked about the abundance of job opportunities--the dream many immigrants have to leave their home country and move to America to start a new life for themselves, one in which they can build something substantial and give their children opportunities they couldn't have back home.

When I asked the student if he thought this dream was still alive and attainable, he said yes. 

Another student, a young black woman, disagreed. Her definition of the American dream fell in line with wealth and the ability to have a "well-stocked refrigerator with colorful things." She said that dream is only attainable by some because "some things still haven't changed." She cited racism as an example.

These two students' answers have stayed with me today, as I've seen news alerts of governors across the country one by one announcing they want to block any efforts to resettle Syrian refugees in their states. The attacks in Paris have set off a wave of xenophobia so great that it splashes from the pages of social media statuses to the very lips of people expected to lead our communities not only by policy but by example. It's disheartening, yet not surprising, to read how closed-minded people can be. Too often, fear of the unknown, the what-if, transforms the human spirit into an ugly shadow of itself. 

My mom is an immigrant. She didn't leave a war-torn country or suffer at the hand of terrorists, but she did move to the United States for a better life. As far as I know, she didn't face any real obstacles to settling here -- she married a man in the military, so her journey was mostly smooth. She wasn't a Christian when she came, but that didn't matter. She wasn't running for her life, yet she was offered solace.

Her journey 40 years ago couldn't be more different from what the Syrian refugees are facing. But perhaps the biggest difference of all is -- and I hate that this matters, but -- as a Korean woman, her skin is more white than brown. 

If we can't offer 10,000 refugees -- a small number, in the grand scheme of things -- a chance at a better life (like this country has done for immigrants since its inception), the American dream is truly lost.