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The American Dream Deferred

UUSC's Senior Grassroots Organizer Ana Maria De La Rosa reflects on the false promise of the American Dream in a sermon to UUs in San Bernardino, California.

By Ana Maria De La Rosa on August 20, 2019

This is an excerpt from a sermon UUSC’s Senior Grassroots Organizer Ana Maria De La Rosa gave at the Turning the Tides gathering in San Bernardino, CA in early August. The event was organized by the UU Justice Ministry of California. The gathering brought together UUs from all over the state working on social justice issues locally and globally, in worship, song and hands-on trainings.

One of the most pervasive and far-reaching lies within our U.S. imperialist structure is that of the American Dream. In a country with a long legacy of harm, the fallacy of the American Dream stands out because it exploits our instinctual hunger and thirst for hope. We want to believe in a world where individual choice is an equalizer and where hard work can interrupt injustice. This is the narrative the American Dream has peddled since ships knew to arrive at Ellis Island. One thing about dreams, however, is that at some point, we all must wake up.

I am the daughter of Latinx immigrants and I grew up in poverty in the south. For me, dreams were a luxury reserved for those who were allowed to sleep in. Like many first-generation U.S.-born children, I am the first person in my family to go to college. I have carried the weight of the American Dream on my back: It is almost as heavy as my student loan debt.

The American Dream relies on a financial comparative analysis with the generation that came before, meant to prove that a higher salary than your parents is equal to success. But what happens when my perceived success as an Afro-Latinx woman is compared with my peers of different racial and class backgrounds in the present moment? I am left with a 53 cents pay gap compared to a white man with a similar degree. The disparity in my income and access to financial security is a result of privilege: There is no disparity of will. Afro-Latinx women with a graduate degree are still at higher risk for pre-term birth and infant and maternal mortality than white women with high school diplomas. The American Dream can’t buy me safety.

In contrast to the Dream, the American Truth is when a gunman drives to El Paso to kill Latinos because he’s been told they are “taking over.” El Paso was Mescache Apache and Mansos territory before it was Mexico, and it was Mexico long before it wasn’t. The American Dream is part of the historical amnesia we live in today, for when all that matters are individual bootstraps, there is no incentive to honor the past or protect the future.

When do dreams become nightmares? When you can’t escape them. So, how do we wake up together? We begin by rejecting the premise that there was ever an equitable dream. We acknowledge that the dream we’ve been taught was built on colonialism and the erasure of Indigenous rights to sovereignty. We ask ourselves, “What does it truly mean to decolonize, and are we willing to make the sacrifices?” We replace the narratives that drive immigrants from distant lands toward a promise that does not exist and was never intended for them.

When I was a teenager, I was walking down the street with my uncle and someone yelled at us, “Go back to your country!” to which my uncle quickly replied, “I’ll get out of your country when you get out of mine.” To wake up requires acknowledgement that the American Dream relies on the oppression of people all over the world; when immigrants arrive at our borders, we must greet them with open arms and contrite hearts. To wake up together we must reclaim dreaming: no longer a false promise for the benefit of a few, but instead an opportunity to transcend imagination and lay hold of what we want to build.

And so I am asking you, “Can we dream together, wide awake?”

Photo Credit: UUSC

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About UUSC: Guided by the belief that all people have inherent worth and dignity, UUSC advances human rights globally by partnering with affected communities who are confronting injustice, mobilizing to challenge oppressive systems, and inspiring and sustaining spiritually grounded activism for justice. We invite you to join us in this journey toward realizing a better future!

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