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This trend continued in college and afterward: As an English major, I was often the only person of color in my literature and creative writing classes.As a teacher, I was often one of few teachers of color at my school or in my teacher training programs.I interviewed several friends from immigrant backgrounds who had also reflected on these questions after achieving the traditional definition of success in the United States.
Though I can’t remember them explaining the American dream to me explicitly, the messaging I had received by growing up in the United States made me know that coming home from my first semester at a prestigious university to a new house meant we had achieved it.
And yet, now six years out of college and nearly 10 years past that moment, I’ve begun questioning things I hadn’t before: Why did I “make it” while so many others haven’t?
I thought: That moment encapsulated what I had always thought of the “American dream.” My parents had come to this country from Mexico and Ecuador more than 30 years before, seeking better opportunities for themselves.
They worked and saved for years to ensure my two brothers and I could receive a good education and a solid financial foundation as adults.
The philosopher Seneca said, “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” But in the United States, too often people work hard every day, and yet never receive the opportunities that I did — an opportunity as simple as a teacher advocating on their behalf.
Statistically, students of color remain consistently undiscovered by teachers who often, intentionally or not, choose mostly white, high-income students to enter advanced or “gifted” programs, regardless of their qualifications.
Upon entering college, I met several students from across the country who also remained stuck within their education system until a teacher helped them find a way out.
Research has proved that these inconsistencies in opportunity exist in almost every aspect of American life.
So many times throughout my life, I’ve come home from classes, sleepovers, dinner parties, and happy hours feeling the heaviness of this exchange. At the same time, I remember using academia jargon my family couldn’t understand either.
I’ve had to Google cultural symbols I hadn’t understood in these conversations (What is “Harper’s”? At a Christmas party, a friend called me out for using “those big Ivy League words” in a conversation.