An "American Dream" Essay

Many of my students are recent immigrants to the United States. Their parents struggle financially, hoping to live out the American Dream. When we start working on college essays, many of my students think that their story is "just like everyone else" because so many of their peers share similar experiences. What they don't realize is that when they tell their story in a vulnerable, evocative, and, reflective way, it can be powerful and successful. The following essay really showcases a successful "American Dream" story. Irvin, the author, is a junior at a highly selective university in New England.

Leafing through the countless assignments from eighth grade, I stumble upon one that I am very fond of. Written in pencil at the top of the page, the prompt, “What does the American dream mean to you?” A combination of pride, happiness and sadness fills my mind as I begin reading. While reading what is scribbled upon the wide ruled page, I can see many things that have changed. My penmanship, once barely decipherable, is now more legible, and my grammar has benefited from the writing classes I have taken. If I were to rewrite this paper, there would be numerous changes to sentence structure and word choice, but one aspect of the paper would remain unchanged: the meaning of the American dream.

I remember my classmates hesitating on their definition of the American dream, having a hard time deciding whether they wanted to be rich or famous. I, on the other hand, had no doubts of what my definition was. It had always been clear to me and it continues to be. My American dream is to show my parents that the biggest sacrifice they ever made for my brother and me was worth it. 

The word sacrifice falls short for my description of their actions. What they left behind for us can never be restored. A well established life in Mexico, their country, parents, relatives, memories, a beautiful past. They left it all behind without hesitation. No doubts. With their mind set on making the lives of their children better than their own, they made a decision that drastically changed our lives. At the time, the mind of a ten year old greatly disliked the sudden change. It was hard to understand why we couldn’t take a plane to Chicago or why had to travel in a van with seventeen other people as we made our way from Arizona to Illinois.

Slowly, as I was faced with a new culture, a new language and snow, I began to understand the reasons behind the decision to leave Mexico and move “up north,” as the United States is known in Oaxaca. The words “better education and future” were uttered when, with tears in my eyes, I asked why the decision was made. When I asked why we had to hide on our way to Waukegan, a new word surfaced: illegal. The word did not have much meaning then, but with the passing of months and my new understanding of immigration laws, the word began to make sense. Years later, as I learned about the college and financial aid process, I began to dread the word.

The change that comes with moving to a new country was abrupt and frustrating, both academically and personally. Having to learn a new language and struggling in classes taught me lessons in humility while increasing my desire to succeed. However, my brother and I weren’t the only ones who suffered from being in a new country. My parents, used to owning their own business, now had to be employees. My father worked as a dishwasher, while my mother, a pre-K teacher in Mexico, had to swallow her pride and work at a retail store. They never complained, always sure of their reason as to why we came to this country. 

Eventually, they both moved to work in a warehouse and the look of pride in their eyes showed us that everything they did was for us. That look sparked a new desire in me. To see my parents work so hard, to see them struggle day after day, made me realize that one day I would let them know that their sacrifice was worth it.

In order to fulfill the purpose for their sacrifices, I applied myself to academics. Within two years, I managed to move from ESL to regular education classes. The teachers were always amazed at my ability to learn the language so fast and at my dedication. Middle school passed, high school came, yet my desire remained the same. New sights formed in the horizon. These came in the form of the words “college, university, first male Latino valedictorian.” The desire to achieve these goals continued to be drawn from the actions of my parents. Despite the fact that all of these goals will reflect my personal success, I do not see it as such. I am not the only one succeeding. We are. I am not doing this solely for own personal gain. I am doing it for my parents as a way of showing them that their sacrifice was worth it.

And now, here I am. On the verge of making my dreams come true, of fulfilling my parents’ sole reason for coming to this country. At the very turning point in my life where all my struggles, my perseverance, my dedication and my parents’ sacrifices will be combined and result in my acceptance into a selective college or university. The moment that I open that acceptance letter and see the happiness and pride in my parents’ eyes, I will be able to say that I have awoken from the American dream to be faced by a beautiful reality.


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