Tuesday, October 2, 2012

My American Dream

My American Dream

ConanO’Brien once said: “One’s dream is constantly evolving, rising and falling, changing course”. I couldn’t agree more based on my experience. When I was 16, I was off to college with great enthusiasm. With tremendous encouragement from my father, I took Business Economics at the most prestigious university in my country and dreamed of someday becoming the President. When I graduated college at 20, I believed I was ready to conquer the “real” world. With greater hunger for knowledge, I wanted to study further and someday teach back in my university. The year I turned 21, my future took a different route. My so called world is somewhere else now.

It was the 5th of December 2009, our plane just landed and as I was slowly walking to the airport, a snow flake fell on hand. It was the first day of winter and it was also my first day in a new country that I will start to call - home.

My father and I left my home country, Philippines, and flew more than 8,000 miles to come to the United States, the land of dreams and greener pastures. My mother was recovering from an amputated toe due to diabetes and decided to stay in the Philippines because my brother was "overage" by US immigration policies.  I left with a heavy heart and packed my life of 21 years in just 3 luggage bags.


I remember having a conversation in high school with someone 12 years my senior about going abroad. He said everyone would seize the chance to go abroad when the opportunity presented itself. Being young and nationalistic, I exclaimed that if such opportunity existed, I would not leave my country and choose to stay. I never thought that I would eat my words and do the opposite instead

The past few years that I lived here in America has been a life of endless trials, accomplishments and learnings.  Coming to America changed my life in a snap. Within my first two weeks, I started looking for jobs that cater to my college degree. With no luck, I accepted work as a stay-in caregiver to an elderly lady for a family of doctors. I was not ashamed of my job, but I was not so proud of it either. I am on the opposite side of my field. My being a caregiver is supposed to be temporary until I find a job that is more in line with my academic training. However, the job market is tight and I need a job to survive. My dreams needed to wait.

                                                                                    Jim Mone/AP

A few months later, my father was complaining of chest pains. He fainted so I scheduled him with my boss for a check-up and she found out that he actually had a heart attack. My father had a quintuple heart bypass surgery. He survived. And two months into his recovery, my mother fell unconscious and went into coma and in 24 hours she died due to aneurysm. I flew back to the Philippines for three weeks to lay my mother to rest. Two months after her death, my father decided to return to the Philippines. The loneliness was just too much for him.

I became the breadwinner of the family. Being the youngest, I expected to be taken care of; instead I had to step up and take responsibility for everything. I suddenly needed to be a grown up. I had no choice; I had to keep the family from going through more difficulties. I couldn't quit my job with all the responsibilities suddenly in my hands. I had to hold on a little longer until I saved more than enough or found another job.

The United States meant better opportunities, which also meant acquiring more wealth. This has shown me how easy it is to acquire material wealth through hard work, either by credit or cash. Two weeks into my job, I was able to buy a high-end laptop. Three months of pay checks was enough to cover all expenses entailed by my sudden flight to the Philippines. With my salary of two months, I was able to buy a used car in good condition. These are material possessions that I can't imagine acquiring in less than a year if I stayed in the Philippines.


After one year of my employment and some money saved, I decided to quit my job and try my luck in another place. I stayed over at my friend’s house for two months and then I rented a room somewhere else.  I struggled looking for a job again. I was getting interviews and getting better at it. My improvements didn’t land me the job because they hired internally. I never thought the job market was overly competitive.

And so to finance myself and support my family, I took any job available. I was hired as a Server at a restaurant and then I took a second job as a Sales Associate at a hardware store.  I tried applying for an office position in a company through a friend's referral but they wouldn't hire me because they already hired someone internally.  I applied with the lowest possible job just so I could just get in. I was hired. I was a Cage Wash Technician in the morning, Sales Associate at night and Server on weekends.  I was working 80 hour weeks for 2 months. Then I decided to quit as a server because the pay was just not good enough. And then 6 months later, I got promoted in my first job and I decided to quit my Sales Associate job. Three months after, I was offered to be a permanent and I accepted. Another three months passed, and the job that I first applied for became open. I applied and got the job. Thanks to my new job, I was able to support myself and my family, move to a new apartment and go to school at night. I have proven that I earned what I’ve worked for.

Looking back now, I am extremely different from who I was when I was 16. My dreams have changed and they will still change. I have also changed career paths. To be the President of my Philippines is not my dream anymore. I have new dreams: to have my own business, to get married to the love of my life, to have our own home, and to have my father and brother here permanently. I vow to go back to the Philippines someday and teach.  My struggle to survive in this land of the unknown challenged my dreams and identity but also it defined me and made me unique.

The general idea of the term “American Dream” suggests that anyone in the US can succeed through hard work and has the potential to lead a happy and successful life. I am happy in the land I now call my second home. I have conquered a few steps to success and I am still far from reaching the ultimate success of my life but at least I know where I am heading.

Maria Helena Garcia, 23, Administrative Support Specialist II for the National Institutes of Health, is having the American Life and living the American Dream. 

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