Seeking the American Dream By Raghav Ramgopal

Photo courtesy of The San Diego Union-Tribune

Some criticize it, saying it is simply unachievable, while others praise it as the foundation of American society and culture. Often, those left out of the debate centering around this American value are the ones who came to this country for that very dream: everyday immigrants, both undocumented and documented. Every year, millions of people make the arduous decision to leave everything they know behind in pursuit of freedom, happiness, and success in America. While these immigrants all seek to achieve the American Dream, every person’s experience with it is different. To learn more about this concept, I sat down with four immigrants from four different countries to find out their journey through the American Dream.

Photo courtesy of Dallas Morning News

Jane Doe

“Immigrants who currently...[live]...[in the United States] should...have rights to more resources than before,” Doe said.

We start off in a small village in the southern state of Veracruz, Mexico with a young Jane Doe (who does not want her name revealed). Growing up fatherless in a small, two-bedroom home, Doe was the youngest of nine children, living with her siblings and her mother.

Unable to pay school fees, Doe was forced to drop out after sixth grade, when she started working as a house cleaner. She was only twelve years old.

Bringing home an unlivable wage of $3 a day, she decided to set out on the treacherous journey in search of a new life; a life of better opportunities, better living conditions, and a proper education. She set out for the American Dream.

Doe left her home town and traveled by bus to the U.S.-Mexico border, where she then paid a smuggler to take her into the United States, where she was left to walk alone.

“I was so scared because I had to hide from ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement]… and… I had to walk in the night…without food, without water,” Doe said.

She recalls having to live in the shadows once in America in order to avoid deportation. Since Doe was undocumented, she had limited access to government resources, making life much harder. She could not receive Medicaid or food stamps, even though she could not afford these necessities on her own. Doe is now a legal green card holder and works as a house cleaner and nanny. She has two children, one in high school and the other in middle school.

Doe believes the American Dream is living a good life and achieving personal goals. After all these years and hard work, does she believe that she received her American Dream?

“With just the fact that I’m currently living here, I could say I’ve achieved most of it…[but] my dream will…[only] be fully complete once my children finish their education and get jobs,” Doe said.

Doe is grateful that she was given this chance to live a life free of poverty and believes that immigrants should not be put in jeopardy simply because of their legal status.

“Immigrants who currently...[live]...[in the United States] should...have rights to more resources than before,” Doe said.

Photo courtesy of Raghav Ramgopal

Connie Steube

“I think [immigrating to America] just gave me a much broader perspective and it gave me an idea…[that] everything is possible,” Steube said.

Further south in Latin America, Connie Steube, the mother of two high school students at Pinewood and one alum, was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. But, unlike Doe, she was not born into as financially strained of a family.

Steube received a quality education, a college degree, and went on to work for McKinsey & Company, a global consulting firm, as well as a private equity firm called The Excel Group.

Steube’s work frequently brought her to America, and when her then-husband decided to pursue his MBA in the United States, she came with him, arriving in January 2000.

Steube believes the American Dream is the job certainty in this country, and how hard work pays off, letting people get further in life.

“I think the American Dream...is a lot of different things for a lot of different people. What I think makes America so special in my eyes is that here, hard work pays off more than in other places and the person that...puts in [the] work can get further just based [on] that...[whereas] in other countries luck is just so much more of a factor,” Steube said.

She believes that she has achieved her American Dream because she was able to raise her family here in a way that she would not have been able to anywhere else.

While Steube has no regrets about immigrating to America, she will always have a soft spot for her home country.

“I guess I could still...be happy [in Argentina]....I wasn’t in bad conditions…[, but] I think [immigrating to America] just gave me a much broader perspective and it gave me an idea…[that] everything is possible,” Steube said.

She thinks that the rise in anti-immigration rhetoric in the United States is horrible because it is immigrants – particularly illegal immigrants – who do a lot of the jobs no one else is willing to do. Steube feels that the discrimination occurring against immigrants can make America an unwelcoming place for those moving here, especially if they are financially unstable.

To make lasting improvements to the United States’ current immigration system, Steube feels that it is essential to make the process less scrutinizing because a lot of these immigrants are contributing to the advancement of our society.

“It’s very ironic that...a lot of jobs are done...by people that...you [then] turn your back [on]...I definitely hate...the culture of hatred and generalization [in America],” Steube said.

Steube had her own struggles with the rigid immigration process, resulting in her having to sue the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services before they granted her a work permit.

Steube thinks the immigration process is too difficult and that new laws making it easier for people to legally enter the country are necessary. If there are undocumented immigrants despite these changes, though, she believes they should face punitive measures.

“I think the immigration laws should be more welcoming and more...in line with what the reality…is[:]…who’s doing the jobs...and who’s contributing to progress in general,” Steube said.

Photo courtesy of Raghav Ramgopal

Carmen Lopez

If Lopez had not applied for that asylum claim and boarded that plane, she believes she would still be living a life of constant peril back home in Guatemala.

Further up north, Carmen Lopez was raised in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Similar to Doe, Lopez only studied until sixth grade, and, at just 11 years old, she started working as a house cleaner as well. Years later, she married into an abusive household.

“[Staying in Guatemala] was very [dangerous] for me because...my...husband [beat me],” Lopez said.

Lopez decided to apply for asylum in the United States, both to escape domestic violence and for a better life and quality of education for her children. When Lopez’s request was granted, she boarded a plane and left Guatemala in 2006, eventually settling down in the Bay Area.

Once she arrived in America, she was met with an unexpected additional legal fee of $6,000 from her immigration lawyer; while eventually being able to pay the cost, she hopes for a world in which immigrants are not exploited in the search for a better life.

Lopez’s idea of the American Dream is achieving the successful and stable life she has today.

“I think [the American Dream] is…[having work] and…[being] safe,” Lopez said.

She believes that she has achieved this dream of hers because she now lives a happy, safe, and successful life free of abuse.

If Lopez had not applied for that asylum claim and boarded that plane, she believes she would still be living a life of constant peril back home in Guatemala.

While Lopez believes that America is a welcoming place for immigrants of all backgrounds, the uptick our country has seen in anti-immigrant rhetoric troubles her. She feels that no immigrant should be told to go back to their country out of hatred, and that they should have the right to make a home in the United States. Similar to Steube, Lopez dreams of an America where immigrants are welcomed with open arms.

Photo courtesy of Ramgopal Dental

Lakshmi Ramgopal

“America is built on the sweat and blood of immigrants and we should never forget that,” Ramgopal said.

Halfway across the world, my mother, Lakshmi Srinivasan, was growing up in Chennai, India. Changing her last name in marriage, she is now Lakshmi Ramgopal.

In India, Ramgopal grew up in a middle class family with all of her needs taken care of; she was able to go to school and graduate college with a bachelor’s degree in dentistry.

Shortly after getting married in 1991, she ended up in the United States, where her husband was working and pursuing his graduate studies. Although Ramgopal had a quality lifestyle back home, she arrived in this country with very little. But through hard work, Ramgopal was able to graduate from Tufts University Dental School, and her husband from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School. Together they slowly started building up their life in the United States.

Ramgopal, like many others, was able to achieve her American Dream.

“[I believe the American Dream is when] you work hard and you...make a good living and provide for your family….,” Ramgopal said.

“[I have achieved] most of [my American Dream]...I’ve done well in my job...[,] have provided for my children...[,live] in a nice neighborhood...[,] and we are comfortable,” Ramgopal said.

Although she now lives a comfortable life in the United States, Ramgopal says she would have done well in India too, by conducting healthcare interviews on one of the biggest television channels.

“I would have been a TV personality...[and] I would have had a very good life in India [as well]...[by combining] my [passion for] health care and media,” Ramgopal said.

If given the opportunity to travel back in time and choose between immigrating to America or staying in India, Ramgopal says that she would have definitely chosen America. She said that day-to-day life in the United States is much easier and that she can live an independent lifestyle.

Ramgopal is horrified by the rise of anti-immigrant rhetoric in this country and believes that it should come to an end.

“America is built on the sweat and blood of immigrants and we should never forget that,” Ramgopal said.

She feels that America is mostly welcoming of all immigrants, but that it can be hostile towards them as well.

Although Ramgopal faced no difficulties during her immigration and naturalization process, she knew of people whose partners and spouses were stuck abroad due to the lengthy application procedure and believes this issue should be addressed.

Ramgopal, now a small business owner with her own dental practice, primarily employs women--most of whom are immigrants themselves--seeking to achieve their own American Dreams.

Final Thoughts

America is a country woven from the threads of millions of immigrants whose stories are similar to those of these four women. From the first pilgrims fleeing religious persecution, to those fleeing violence and extreme poverty, everyone arrives here seeking something bigger, something better.

Despite the fact that America is defined by immigrants from all walks of life, misinformation and propaganda has painted them as villains who are out to destroy our society.

With this misinformation in mind, there have been an increasing number of attempts to make immigration policies stricter in an effort to limit the amount of people entering our country, both legally and illegally. The fates of many like these four women lie in this battle’s balance. Although most of these attempts have failed, the rising intolerance of immigration in America serves as a grave omen for the future of many who may seek a better life.