Thursday, November 6, 2008

Reshaping the American Dream?

My RSS feed brought a great news story to my inbox today. It was titled Do You Need an Obama to Believe? by Larry Elder . It was timely, because some of the comments that struck me from the election night festivities were some of the commentary from the attendees. The common theme seemed to be "I can now look my children in the face and tell them- you too can be president of the United States." As I heard this statement over and over. I thought about the words. Never having walked a day in the shoes of an African-American- I thought of the significance of the words. They stung, almost incredibly to a point that I started to question why that was. It got me deep into thinking about my upbringing on the South Side of Chicago. The neighborhood I grew up in was a hodgepodge of ethnicity: Polish, Italian, Mexican, Puerto Rican, Black.

I still remember my group of friends from the neighborhood. There were five of us. Living in the shadow of the steel mills, We all came from decent hardworking blue-collar families. Few of our parents had a college education. Simple lifestyles were the common theme. Our common crossing points were playing baseball in the local baseball leagues , belonging to the same parish and our Boy Scout troop. I find it very insightful that all can come from similar backgrounds and yet we all ended up in different sectors of society. Each of us had the same ability to pursue a private education for grammar and high school. College was a possibility for all of us. Due to decisions that each of us made early in our lives- it set each of us down a path of realizing this potential or eventually facing challenges that limited our path out of the neighborhood.

Thirty years later- one of us is a businessman, one is a chef, one works for the city, one is doing time in a state penitentiary and one is an entrepreneur. We were all hispanic kids from the neighborhood. Growing up in the 70's and 80's meant there were few latinos on television (Freddie Prinz didn't count) in roles other than the typical stereotypes. Being blue-collar, many of us did not come in contact with many professionals (doctors, lawyers etc) yet it was never a limiting factor for each of us. Most of us pursued an education in one form or another. We knew that was our ticket out of the neighborhood. At any point, either of us was one poor decision away from ending up in jail or some other issue which would have derailed our educational goals. Four of the five had the sense to stay straight.

Getting back to the post election interviews- what struck me most was the comment by many of the people in the crowds. How could it be that it was now and only now that they saw the possibility to become something more? Have they been blind to the doctors, lawyers and high profile business people to come out of their community? I question if that is the case or if it has been easier to idolize the rappers, the local neighborhood hoodlums or the dropouts?

It brought be me to Larry Elder's commentary. Where are the family values of fair pay for an honest day's work, respecting yourself and honoring your responsibilities not enough? What was missing? Why was it that it took Barrack Obama for the people in the interviews to solidify their hope that they could become someone? Was the American Dream reshaped on that fateful night on November 4, 2008? Or has it always been there and it isn't until now that people see the reason to pursue it?

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