The American Dream and meMon, 23rd Feb '09, 1:45 am::
Tonight I worked on my business school project while the Oscar ceremonies were on. I set my DVR to record the whole show and went back to working on my assignment nonchalantly. It was only when my dad called me from India and exclaimed "Jai Ho!" that I realized that my favorite musician A. R. Rahman had won the Oscars for the best original score and the best original song for Slumdog Millionaire. I said "That's so awesome" to my dad and went back to studying. Maybe I was just stressed about the project or maybe it was something else but I felt quite uneasy after that phone call. That was quite a stereotypical American hipster response coming from me, as if I have become so unfazed by media, splendor, and glitter that Oscars are passĂ© and winning awards is dull.
Once I completed my assignment, I watched the entire Oscar ceremony in about an hour, with the gratuitous use of the fast-forward button. In true Oscar-audience fashion, I laughed and I cried, I cheered and I clapped. When it was over, I went online to read more about the Oscars and hear what others were saying. I often do that after major events, just to feel like I'm part of a global community at 1 am. To my dismay, other than the big media outlets like CNN and BBC, none of the sites I frequent cared much about the Oscars. One or two even mocked them and the winners. It was the consequent feeling of cognitive dissonance that prompted me to stay up well past my bedtime and write my thoughts down.
Americans just don't get the American Dream. They read about it in books and think it is a house in the 'burbs with a white picket-fence and a big dog. They think immigrants from all over the world come here just to buy a big house and watch the Super Bowl. I know this is what they think because I've been living here for the past eight years and by all accounts I'm living proof of having achieved it. But that's not what THE American Dream is. The American Dream that millions upon millions of people around the world aspire to achieve someday is not a mediocre life of relative stability with a two-car garage and automated bill payment.
The American Dream is being born as the youngest of eight children, failing medical entrance exam, dropping out of law college, joining film institute against family's wishes, and fourteen long years later winning a god-damned Oscar in front of the whole world. The American Dream is not the glory but the never ending struggle that one must go through while everyone around you has become complacent and already accepted the status quo as their fate. The American Dream is daring to dream that despite the millions before you who tried and failed, you have something within you that sets you apart and ever-so-slightly shifts the odds in your favor.
The saddest part about the American Dream is that for most people, it stops the moment they set foot in the country. I vividly recall my first flight to the US. I was nervous but determined. As the plane reached cruising altitude, I managed to calm my emotions down. After all, I had just bid my family, friends, and home for twenty years good bye. I told myself that I will make my parents proud and my friends will someday say "he used to sit right here next to me in class." I did not have a specific goal in mind and especially did not care about money or riches. As boring as it sounds, I just wanted to be "somebody." I just wanted my piece of the American Dream.
Eight years later, here I am. I've assimilated quite well. I have a gorgeous loving wife, lots of pets, a wonderful job, a nice house, two cars, and for the first time in my life, a real savings account. Having all of my wishes come true wasn't the American Dream. Arguing with my dad for two years to let me come to the US against his wishes, was. Having my sister determine the fate of my life because my dad asked her if I should be allowed to go to the US, was. Living alone for six of the past eight years and managing to remain optimistic about my future life, was. And yet, I haven't struggled even one-percent as much as most of the other immigrants who come here. By most standards, I've had it pretty easy. My American Dream delivered above and beyond my expectations. For most, it doesn't. It stops being a dream when the bills pile up and discrimination begins. The only glint of hope is that the kids will have a better shot at life someday.
I don't care to watch the Oscars because Meryl Streep has been nominated for the fifteenth time. I watch them because I want to see a grown man cry like a baby when he realizes that this very moment is the culmination of forty years of hard work. I watch them because I want to see lives changed and careers validated. There are no triumphant awards for programming web services or coding warehouse systems. Watching others get rewarded for their hard work is the closest that I can get to feeling like there is still some fairness in this world; that tireless efforts are eventually rewarded and perseverance pays off in the end. Watching others achieve their dreams helps me keep my dreams alive, however incomparable they might be.
The American Dream is not about money, fame, or power but about beating the insurmountable odds. The American Dream is never accepting that the best part is already over. The American Dream is achieving it and starting it all over again.