The Immigrant’s Dream


Illustrations by Maitane Romagosa for Vox

For decades, America has been synonymous with the American Dream—the idea that in this country success is within reach for anyone who works hard. This is why nearly 45 million Americans are not born here but rather immigrants. From a young age, my parents told me about how they had decided to forge their own American Dream—why they had chosen to immigrate to a country where they knew personal freedom and economic opportunity were plentiful.


As we drove to Big Bear Lake last weekend, my dad shared with me his story of immigrating to America. He had been born in Taiwan—his parents had escaped Mao Zedong’s takeover of the mainland in the late 1940s as children—and he had always known through family, media and a bit of folklore that America was where his dreams would come true. He landed in San Francisco as a young teenager with ambitions that reached beyond the rainbow with few things on him: a $20 bill, the phone number of a friend who agreed to lend him a bedroom for his first few days in America and a basic knowledge of common phrases he would need had he gotten lost somewhere or needed to call a taxi. His journey in America epitomizes what it means to ascend one rung of the ladder at a time. Beginning as a chef in Youngstown, Ohio, to receiving his master’s degree at San Jose State University, to starting his own business and eventually settling down in Southern California, his American journey was one of trials and tribulations—by no means a perfect path but a testament to the opportunities this country has offered to foreigners who seek a better life. 


In turn, immigrants like my parents give back to America what she has given them. Foreign-born Americans contribute immeasurably to the American economy and make up the fabric of America’s workforce in all sectors. Immigrants contribute to the melting pot that in many ways defines American culture—a beautiful amalgamation of the traditions and heritages of the world, bound together not by language or ethnicity or skin color but by shared values and a belief in the American Dream. America is strong because it is full of immigrants who vibrantly seek to enrich American values, to which they subscribe so much that they were willing to say goodbye to everything they had known back home.


Despite this, homegrown hatred against American immigrants has ominously begun to rise. The Southern Poverty Law Center notes a recent alarming increase in anti-immigration activism and organizations that seek to blame immigrants for the nation’s troubles. On a more intellectually unsound front, individuals have begun to co-opt support for border security into anti-immigrant diatribes—failing to recognize that a nation’s need for borders and its need for immigrants are not mutually exclusive. Perhaps most disturbingly, those who campaign against immigrants often target their vitriol at those who work the lowest-paying jobs and who are the backbones of the American economy.


As a product of the American Dream—the son of immigrants who neither have perfect English nor are claimants to lineage on this continent dating back centuries—I know first-hand the power of immigration. It angers me to see people demonize immigrants just because they look different compared to the “norm” or have an accent when they speak English. More powerfully, what I have come to realize is that the American Dream is the immigrant’s dream—that America’s doors should always be wide-open to people who seek more out of their lives through their own blood, sweat and tears. They should never have to face down the hatred of those who cannot accept them—whose condemnable insularity means that they shift blame onto the shoulders of those who contribute to American life the most. Yet they do.


All of this has made me come to realize the extraordinary resilience of American immigrants. Although some may not know for what they signed up—perhaps they hadn’t yet realized that freedom and opportunity came with the attitudes of some who couldn’t accept them—they persevered. And they made it—they not only solidified a better life for themselves and their families but they reignited America’s inner flame of hard work and decency. At this critical juncture in their American story, they are once again being threatened—their livelihoods under constant assault by extremists who espouse hate at every turn.


The Statue of Liberty—literally the physical manifestation of the American Dream—is inscribed with the words of author Emma Lazarus, who writes:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


For centuries, those who have come to America’s shores have followed the power of these words—of the hope that America resembles. Immigrants have come to define the very essence of who we are as a nation—their struggles and successes forever etched in our shared American memory. To stand with immigrants is to stand with the renewal of the torch that Lady Liberty holds, which has made America the freest country in the world—where everyone chases their dream.


Sources (in order of appearance)

Key Findings about U.S. Immigrants

Immigrants Contribute Greatly to U.S. Economy, despite Administration’s ‘Public Charge’ Rule Rationale

Anti-Immigration Groups