By Karla Ortiz (BA Political Science, ’18)
Everyone living in this country has his or her own definition of what the American Dream means. The struggles we have surpassed and the ones we are facing are what make us unique. The diversity of each story is what makes us American, which is what should be bringing us closer and not pulling us further apart. Striving for the American Dream should not be seen as a competition, but as something we should all be able to achieve. The story I am about to share is about my family’s definition of the American Dream.
Twenty-nine years ago, both my parents came to this country legally and stayed after their visas expired. They started working day and night in order to pay rent and buy food and clothes for the harsh winter. My father came to the United States dreaming of one day owning his own restaurant; instead, he worked as a porter at Red Lobster for four years, then went to work at a factory. My mother came to the U.S. dreaming of owning her own business and raising her children here. Once they met, got married, and started to have children, they had to put their dreams away for some time. Their focus shifted.
Nonetheless, there is one specific thing my parents have said that has been engraved in my mind since my youngest days: “Study, because it is what will help you succeed. There’s nothing you cannot do in this world as long as you try. Do something with your life. If not for us, do it for yourself. It is the only inheritance we will leave you.”
My parents no longer focused on their individual dreams; rather, their new dream focused on the better futures they could give their three children. Their dream was to see us succeed and to help us pursue our dreams. Their act of selflessness inspires us to do our best. My sister, a first-generation college student, graduated from Roosevelt University in 2014 and became a high school teacher. I am currently a junior at Roosevelt and will be graduating in May 2017. I will then continue my studies at Northern Illinois University School of Law.
My parents have sacrificed to help us graduate from college, and I have no words to describe how thankful I am to them. Achieving my American Dream has not been easy, but with the help of my parents, it is close to being realized. I hope to become an immigration lawyer in order to help others achieve their American Dream of becoming citizens of this country. I see this as paying my good fortune forward. If my dream can help someone else achieve his or her dream, how wonderful would that be?
Today, my mother manages her own business. My father continues to work at a factory but has not given up on his dream of opening his own restaurant. My sister is a teacher. I am a year away from finishing my college degree. My little brother is only 11, but he has several dreams in mind. This country is a land of opportunities and freedom. I hope that people do not lose hope with our current situation, but instead find the strength to fight for what they believe in. We all need to have the courage to take action when it is needed in order to protect the future of this country and the yet-to-be realized American Dreams.
To register for the 2017 American Dream Conference, visit http://americandreamconference.com/register/.