For Neni Jonga, the “American dream” was a prize she had always dreamed of. Beautiful home with a white picket fence, a perfect family, and her wish to become a pharmacist would be fulfilled. Her children would only know success and privilege, her husband would have a supportive job, and her worries would fade away. There was no reason for Neni to doubt this narrative; with TV constantly painting this image for Neni Jonga, it seemed anything but impossible. However, Neni’s dream soon faded to reality. A land that brought her joy for the future would soon jeopardize the union of her family as she knew it. What had once seemed so obtainable was now causing her so much sorrow. The combination of troubled asylum efforts, financial instability, and the doubts spewing left and right about her overly ambitious goals would all turn a beautiful dream into a dreadful nightmare.
In so many stories, the idea of the American dream is a common theme and concept used. From an outsider’s perspective, it can be so easy to rely heavily on the media’s portrayal of American life. Neni expressed in the novel that she was accustomed to watching TV shows such as “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, “Dallas”, or “ Dynasty” and giving in to these heavily fabricated series. It did not take long for Neni to suddenly be met with an outpour of hardships that would alter her sense of stability in America. Despite the shortcomings that Mrs. Jonga encountered, the idea of abandoning her dream was a grievous thought and eventual reality. The American Dream had a personified grip on Neni that could not be shaken. Even with efforts led by Jende and all odds turned against her, Neni turned a near-blind eye to the nightmare unfolding around her.
Not only did the American dream blind Neni, but it also transformed her character in considerable ways. At the beginning of Behold the Dreamers readers never would have thought that the loving mother could be capable of something as heinous as blackmail; however, Neni was desperate to live out a stable life in America. Neni even began to plot extreme schemes to savor this dream or provide her kids an American dream that she possibly would miss out on. Anything from marrying a random man to gain citizenship or giving her only son up for adoption, Neni was desperately seeking ways to stay in America rather than returning to Cameroon.
Not to mention, Neni’s overly ambitious career path was solely centered on the ideas of the American dream. “In America, anyone can achieve anything.” This quote drove Neni towards initiating such a strenuous path. While it is true that America has an abundance of opportunities, it is also true that those opportunities are often readily available only to certain types of people. Neni was set in her ways and overlooked that harsh reality of the American dream.
The American dream is a construct that is heavily relied on and viewed by many as a saving grace, but what are we to do when our dreams fade to nightmares?