Something that I’ve heard my entire life is the concept of the “American Dream”. I think it was first introduced to me in elementary school when learning about the Industrial Revolution. It was always talked about in a positive light. That America symbolized something greater than who you were before you entered the country. The idea is that with a dream, you could be anyone or anything. As a 9-year-old, it was honestly pretty inspiring to hear. But also, as a 9-year-old, you never hear the downside of the American dream. That you could work your entire life for something, but someone that was born into better standings could receive it instead of you.
Jende and Neni live with the construct of the American Dream in their heads. The media they have been exposed to in Cameroon tells a story that is completely inaccurate. I, an American citizen for all of her life, do not live like someone on HBO or Showtime show. I do not have the mafia after me, or a warrant out for my arrest. My life is almost completely and utterly boring to what is on cable television. I get excited when I can go to the grocery store, not to some high fashion event like characters on many TV shows.
That’s the idea that many people are fed that live in other countries. They view America as like this “safe haven” where they could seek refuge. That anything could happen if they put their mind to it. That is not true in the slightest. Anything can happen if you have the means to do it. But it is so much more unlikely to be successful if you are not born somewhere that gives you a place to do so. There is such a poverty gap in our country that people can truly never be equal. It’s all about luck.
That’s where I feel bad for Neni and Jende. They are truly trying to be American the right way. Unlike how many immigrants are perceived, they are trying to do everything the way the government wants them to. They just don’t have the given means to do so. It is not as easy as many people believe it to be. So, while hard-working people like the Jongas come to American every day, willing to do undesirable jobs that no one wants, they are turned away. The immigration process takes years to complete, and many hardworking people are just not able to complete it, even with a painstaking amount of effort.
This is where the American Dream fails us. We advertise this perceived life to anyone willing to chase it, but when someone is ready to go the distance; we let them fail. We as a society need to stop advertising something that is not achievable anymore. This is why the American Dream is the villain of Behold the Dreamers. Neni and Jende keep working themselves raw until they achieve something that they believe to be possible. Not that they are stupid for believing so, but because this idea has been given to them their entire lives. And they will not let the idea fade.