The American Dream

America. The land of freedom of opportunity.

What is the American Dream, exactly? The American Dream is different for everybody, but all of those who are seeking the American Dream all have something in common – to escape their worse conditions and to have a second chance.

James Gatz left North Dakota at the age of 16 in search of a new life. He believed he was a son of God, which he believed he must be about His father’s business. He became Jay Gatsby because he wanted a new identity and to be accepted into a new society. To Gatsby, having Daisy, a “poor little rich girl”, was the last key to mean he was truly accepted into their society. Like Gatbsy, Americans today still come to America in hope of the achieving the American Dream.

James Gatz

I am the a first generation American. Both my parents, Vietnam natives, came to America separately around my age (Dad, age 17, Mom, age 18) on only a 40 ft boat. (I guess you can say they are the 0.5 generation!) I’ve been raised by my parents always reminding my sisters and I the hardships they’ve went through to get us where we are now.

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Dad’s early days

After the fall of Saigon, my parents said their lives changed immediately. Their schools were forced to sing songs about the “fantastic hero” Ho Chi Minh and how he was a hero to Vietnam. My grandparents had their privacy intruded and new laws allowed individual freedom. My dad immediately decided to leave Vietnam at the age of 17 to escape this brainwashing and to find a better life. He told his mother the night before he boarded a boat with his friends but neglected to tell his father, who soon found out when he found my dad’s slippers on the sand of the beach. My mother, who left Vietnam with her siblings, did not tell her parents of her plans and that night she left was the last time she ever saw them.

Although in separate boats, my parents encountered the same things. One memory my dad remembers vividly were the pirates. They stole the gold he brought and took the women from his boat (I’m guessing, to rape) and the motor from his boat. He and his friends were left stranded for several days without anything to eat or drink. Fortunately, my dad’s boat was found by a U.S. Navy ship. My dad has a fond memory of having his first meal in America being from KFC before he was sent to the Philippines at refugee camps to wait for sponsorship.

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Dad on US Navy Ship shortly after rescue

The first and only time I’ve seen my dad cry was when he was talking about refugee camps. Refugee camps for him were kind of like a limbo; he  felt so close to America but still close to communist Vietnam. He spent 6 months of the Phillipines, which he describes was the worst 6 months of his life. He never gotten in detail at refugee camps but he describes many instances where he had to go to forests to scourge for food. After being sponsored by his uncle who lived in Utah, my dad began his American Dream, where he got a job at his family’s Chinese restaurant and attended college. My dad was the Jay Gatsby of his time.

I am eternally grateful for my parents. They’ve given up their hopes and dreams for me. My dad wanted to become a singer, but instead is the manager of a shipping and receiving for a airplane company. My mom wanted to become a teacher but is a loan officer at a bank. They couldn’t say, “When I grow up, I want to be…..”. They’ve given me that right. Because of my parents, I have the opportunity and potential to be whoever I want. They have provided the first three needs – physiological, safety, and belonging of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs. It is up to me and every first generation to find the last two – self-esteem and self- actualization. It baffles me how everyone takes this for granted, and I sometimes do too.

America is made up of immigrants. Our past generations have come here to seek the freedom and opportunity. All of us had to start from scratch at the over from the bottom of Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs gradually go to the top.

Jay Gatsby embodies the American Dream and how we must look up, stand up, and never give up.



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