America has lost two great troublemakers in one day, Congressman John Lewis and Reverend C.T. Vivian. The two civil rights leaders met in 1957, the year I was born. Together with Martin Luther King Jr. and others, they worked tirelessly in the pursuit of voting and civil rights. The two activists participated in sit-ins against segregation, demonstrations, and marches including the Selma to Montgomery marches of 1965. The two men spent their lives making trouble, standing up for justice, fighting for equality and making others uncomfortable because they refused to give up on the American Dream.
Their death made me think about, what is the American Dream?
I’m a first-generation Cuban immigrant and for my parents, the American Dream was to be able to raise their children free from Communism. For them, the essential premise was freedom. Freedom to worship. Freedom from persecution. Freedom to raise their children in accordance with their beliefs and not the government’s.
With time, for my siblings and me, the idea of the American Dream expanded to include economic opportunity. Our parents believed and we assented wholeheartedly that we could aspire to and achieve whatever we dreamed. We trusted the social compact that if we worked hard, we could accomplish whatever we wanted; that we could do better than our parents.
It saddens me gravely that today although my children live in freedom and have achieved the economic potential of doing better than their grandparents and their parents, they don’t believe in the American Dream. They are poignantly aware that there is a dark side of the American Dream. They don’t like that although a lot has been accomplished through the efforts of giants like Lewis and Vivian, it has not been enough to create equality for everyone and make the American Dream truly accessible to everyone. They are impatient and point to cases of police brutality and institutionalized racism as proof that the American Dream is dead. They know the opportunities they’ve been given are not available to everyone and they resent that. They are so concerned and disappointed, we have had conversations about where we would move to if this country continues in the path we are.
These conversations scare me. I don’t want to go anywhere else. I want to live in this country. I want this country to live up to its ideals, to its promise of freedom, equality and opportunity for all. This is worth fighting for. This is worth causing trouble. I don’t agree with senseless violence that harms the most vulnerable communities and polarizes us through fear. Senseless violence from either side of the struggle undermines the message of freedom, equal opportunity, and democracy. But, I stand with the troublemakers who challenge the status quo and don’t shrug their shoulders and look the other way. I stand with those who demand their voices be heard. I stand with those that seek to unite and find common ground instead of dividing and tearing us apart. In the words of John Lewis, I stand with those who believe that “we must be bold, brave, courageous, and push and pull until we redeem the soul of America.”
What will the American Dream become? I don’t know and I recently often feel discouraged. I worry that I have failed because I have not been able to impart to my children the hope and optimism my parents passed on to me and that gave me the courage and confidence to forge ahead and succeed. I don’t have the words. I don’t know how to show that even if we are not a perfect union, we can come together for the common good. I wish I could convince my children that despite what we are seeing today in America, this is a great country. A country that can survive the political and health crises we are in. A country whose people have come together in the past and can do it again. A country that has not lost its ideals. A country whose soul is worth fighting for and that their generation can play a huge role in continuing to make trouble to make the dream a reality for everyone. We cannot give up the dream. We must find a way.