El sueño americano

When did I stop believing in el sueño americano (the American Dream)?

Perhaps when I met too many boys propelled by it. My first day here, a 15 year old and his 18 year old cousin were in the shelter. The 15 year old had badly injured his shoulder from hopping the train. But all he wanted to talk about was el sueño and how he still wanted to continue on to the US. A 19 year old told me a few days ago that he was going to el Norte because that is what youth in Honduras do. Day after day, teenagers pass through with reckless hope.

Or perhaps I became disillusioned when I saw the lengths that migrants go to and the suffering they endure in pursuit of el sueño. On Monday, a train arrived carrying only a few Central Americans. The 7 who came to our shelter said that it was so empty because the cartel had kidnapped 50 migrants off of the train just days before. And this is only the beginning. When migrants tell me they plan to cross the border via the Arizona desert all I can think of is just how many die there each year.

Or maybe my pessimism arises I looked around in the United States and ask myself, is this it? Is this life worth dreaming about? To live in fear of deportation and with severe limitations on rights and opportunities?

So here I am, in the midst of many migrants who left their homes for el sueño. And I can’t understand why they do it. Many times it is their first attempt and I try to explain to them how difficult their journey will be. Some do change their mind. Yesterday, 12 migrants turned themselves into immigration because they decided that the risk was no longer worth it.

But most continue on. Some do so without a full appreciation of the risks. But for others, it is not their first journey north. They have passed two or three times and know the dangers of the journey. They lived in the US for years and know what awaits them there. And still think it is worth it. And I can’t understand why.

As I try to understand el sueño, even if I can no longer believe in it, I have to appreciate of both parts of the picture. The US, where we take for granted many luxuries and just how much higher an American wage is than what migrants can make in their own country. As one migrant told me, “in Honduras, if I work for a day I can make enough to pay for food just for that day. In the US, I work for a day and can pay for food for a week or more.” And then there is the other side: Central America, where drug and gang violence continues to increase. San Pedro Sula, Honduras is the most violent city in the Western Hemisphere with 159 homicides per 100,000 residents last year. Yes, they are risking death by travelling north. But living in Honduras also means daily risking death. Which is why in the past year our shelter has seen a significant increase in the number of Hondurans who are making their first attempt to enter the US.

Is el sueño worth the journey? I am still not sure I believe in it. But for many migrants the answer seems to be: yes.

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3 Responses to El sueño americano

  1. Carla says:

    Joanna – thanks for this picture of your current reality, and the reality for so many who pursue a dream. It is so easy for those of us who have homes and food and jobs and security to say that the American dream may only lead to empty souls, but we have the luxury of full bellies and soft pillows, not a place from which to judge others who are pursuing basic economic opportunity. Praying for you and those on the journey!

  2. Zenen says:

    Hi Joanna, I’m glad you were able to make it to Veracruz safely. I can’t help but think about the question of the American dream almost everyday of my life. Growing up that is what my parents talked about everyday. They had dreams of my brother and I becoming educated and contributing members of society. For a lot of people, it is not just a dream for themselves but for their current and future family. I don’t know why, but for me it is always a bit disappointing when people say that the American dream is not real.

    I always wonder if my mom would have been happier staying in Mexico. I can’t answer that question for her, but there is a reason she came. Nobody dreams of being a hourly wage earner, we dream of being lawyers, movie stars, athletes. Even growing up working in an office was a foreign concept to me. But for some reason my mom is proud that I put on a tie to go to work and I even get paid for my hourly work more than my mom does. Almost everyone I know believes that hard-work gets you ahead (in fact surveys show that Latinos in the US are more likely to believe that success comes to those that work hard). Maybe the “dream” is just a desire for opportunity.

    • Thank you for your comment. I actually have thought quite a bit about you and some of my other friends as I struggle with this idea of the American Dream … but I didn’t want to put words in your mouth, so I didn’t post that part of what I wrote. So thank you very much for sharing your perspective. And yes, you are right, there is nothing fake about the opportunities that the US offers in comparison to other countries. It is just incredibly difficult to see how much people suffer to attain them.

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