Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The American Dream

by Emily Bingham Hollingshead
Cedar City, Utah
July 13, 2010

Happy July. In Utah, July is not only a celebration of America’s Independence, but it also is a month in which we honor the founders who came before us as we commemorate Utah’s statehood.

When I was growing up, I was reminded on a regular basis of the important heritage that came before me – Mormon Pioneers who crossed the plains and who endured incredible hardships to come to a place where they could worship as they wanted to. As they settled in Utah, they sought for freedom and the ability to live out their American dreams and built a city and community from the ground up in a barren desert.

These were my ancestors. Many of them made the pioneer trek from the eastern United States after they had immigrated from England, Sweden, and Denmark. They came to America not only to worship in a new religion, but also to follow their dreams of a better life in a new land.

Throughout my life I have thought about what it must have been like for them to come to a new country. Many of them didn’t speak English, some were single mothers with small children, others were fathers who left their families back home. Every circumstance was a little bit different, but their hardships were similar. I have always felt deep gratitude for their sacrifices. In this age of cell phones, laptop computers and air conditioned vehicles, I can’t imagine what it must have been like for them.

I was reminded of my pioneer heritage again last night. A few weeks ago I agreed to host several college-aged students at my home. They would be traveling from Southern California to Washington DC, and needed gracious people across the country to provide them with meals and lodging for a night. 12 students were making a “trek,” which they called the “Dream Freedom Ride” - they were on their way to our nation’s capitol to take part in a 3-day march on Washington. There they would join with thousands of other immigrant youth from across the country to rally and lobby United States Senators for “The Dream Act.” This national legislation would allow children of undocumented immigrants to pursue a college education and receive a clear path to United States Citizenship. They planned to lobby senators in each of the 15 states they drove through, hoping to tell their personal stories and share their own visions of the American dream.

And so, last night at about 8:30 pm, 10 young ladies and 2 young men arrived at my front door. We fed them pizza and put everyone in the backyard with their sleeping bags, laptop computers and cell phones charging in every available outlet. They marveled at the beautiful Southern Utah mountains and clear sky – many of them had never even been out of California.

The Dream-Freedom Team - CA to DC
in Cedar City, Utah with the Hollingshead Family
(Emily, Chas and Sam)

I listened closely to their stories. Most of them had come as small children with their parents, all had graduated from an American high school and had graduated from or were about to graduate from an American university. These students came from places like UCLA, UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, and others. They were now either working as political activists, volunteering for non-profit organizations, or getting ready to attend graduate school. All of them were passionate about “The Dream Act” and its possibilities for future generations of undocumented immigrant youth.

Some of their parents came here legally, some did not. Whatever their parents’ current status, I didn’t think about it too much…. because, as I listened to their dreams, I could only think about what incredible people their parents must be: people who came to our country wanting to make life better for their children. They didn’t squander that opportunity, but instead they helped their children to excel.

Many times I hear rhetoric that the “illegals” are using all of our resources, taking all of our jobs, and never giving anything in return. The people who believe this to be true probably have never had the opportunity to meet people like those who slept on my back lawn last night. Whatever their parents have done, their children speak volumes about what it means to seek out the “American Dream” and what it really means to seek a better life for your children.

I wish my new friends the very best on their journey. When they reach Washington, I hope they get an opportunity to meet with Senator Hatch, who was an original sponsor of the “Dream Act.” I hope that as they travel through Denver, Omaha, and Chicago, that they get the opportunity, again and again, to tell their stories of what the American Dream means, and I hope they will change hearts and minds along the way.

I have always believed that The Dream Act was a fabulous way to offer any undocumented youth an opportunity for citizenship. I have never understood opposition to this legislation, and yet there are many who don't understand or who just don't believe that the American Dream should be available to anybody willing to seek it. Isn't hard work and giving back to country what we are all about?

In my view, these kids are definitely what America is all about. To those who say undocumented workers aren’t contributing anything to our country, I disagree. What these first-generation immigrants have given back far exceeds anything that they may have taken: they have given us their children... children who want to give something of value to their country and their communities. To many of them, the United States of America is the only home they’ve ever known, and they are passionate about making sure the American Dream is available to all who want it.

I wish them all the success in the world. Safe travels, and sweet dreams.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your hospitality in hosting this group of brave students. And thanks for a wonderful read - I wish more people took the time to remember their own immigrant ancestors before expressing an opinion about undocumented people in this country.

James Platt said...

I agree on the parts of immigrants bringing aspirations which eventually give positive results, and make the point again, it is NOT the illegal immigrant per se which causes the economic problem, but the greedy CEO, or business owner, or individual, who hires them at slave labor wages, who are collectively turning the USA into a 3rd world country with their greed. What were growing, thriving, beautiful areas of our country have been turned into ghettos because of greed...or as I have said before " In GREED We Trust !"