FOCUS: ‘There is no American dream’: first and second generation immigrants reflect on their experiences


Sarah Olson

First and second generation immigrants at SCHS face pressure to succeed in numerous areas.

The American Dream, a phrase coined by James Truslow Adams in 1931, promotes the idea that economic success in America leads to stability and prosperity. For many immigrant families, this idea is their sole reason for immigrating to the U.S.
For first- and second-generation American students at SCHS, the American dream also motivates their families.
Junior Hrishita Malhotra, a first-generation American, defines the American dream as the aim to be successful for oneself.
“To define the American dream, it is to be successful in your own way for you, not to other people,” Malhotra said. “It is not having harsh expectations of yourself, but instead, having growth within yourself and not other people forcing you to grow.”
Sophomore Loréna Ortiz, however, believes that the idea of the American dream exists to exploit immigrants.
“I feel like there is no American dream,” Ortiz said. “It very much is capitalistic propaganda from the ‘30s, especially after seeing my family work at such an old age and working so hard for so many hours.”
According to the Society for Human Resource Management, immigrants face difficulties obtaining employment due to systemic barriers caused by American employers. Sophomore Nicklaus Chui believes changes should be made to the job market to make the American Dream more than just a dream.
“I feel that not all people get the opportunity to achieve the American dream, and we need to work hard to make infrastructure to make it possible for everyone,” Chui said.
Ortiz is a first-generation American. For them, the first-generation experience is accompanied by feelings of generational guilt and a strong desire to succeed.
“I feel like the immigrant experience is very much trying to navigate not only who you want to be but also how you want to be that person,” Ortiz said. “You feel guilty about not being perfect because our families went through a lot coming to this country, so being perfect is like a way of letting them know that everything they did was worth it.”
According to Pew Research Center, the majority of second-generation immigrants experience feelings of cultural disconnect or find themselves associating more closely with their ethnic identity as opposed to identifying as American. One of the biggest expectations for Ortiz is to balance her Mexican and American identity.
“I feel guilty because my first language was English,” Ortiz said. “I feel like not being taught my native tongue is why some look down upon me, especially when talking to other family members because they’re like, ‘You are too American for us. You think you are too good not to speak your native tongue.’”
Malhotra relates to feeling the need to alter her behavior when surrounded by different groups of people. According to the Guardian, this phenomenon, known as code-switching, is seen in first- and second-generation immigrants in both behavioral and language patterns.
“I feel like I need to be more of a certain culture in certain situations,” Malhotra said. “When I am around larger groups of people, I feel like I need to be a certain way according to them, as if I have two personalities. One is more towards my own culture and one is more ‘American.’”
Spanish teacher Adrian Solorio immigrated to the U.S. at the age of 23. While he feels a cultural connection, he believes that cultural disconnect is natural for his kids growing up in the U.S.
“I wish my daughters had a stronger cultural connection. However, I understand that they live in the U.S. and are growing up around other people, so it is natural for them,” Solorio said. “Culture is something that just happens. You can’t make it. No culture is better than the other, so as long as I teach them to treat people with respect no matter who they are, they are being taught culture.”
Like many, Chui finds his identity in cultural connection. He embraces his identities along with its complexities, as he is both second and third generation born.
“Somedays, I feel very American, and other days, I feel that I need to be more in touch with my Cantonese side,” Chui said. “Overall, I am American at heart, but my experiences with culture as a Chinese person will add on to that identity.”
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, California is home to more immigrants compared to any other state. Over a third of Santa Clara County’s population are immigrants. Solorio appreciates living in California as he has been exposed to an array of vibrant cultures.
“One of the greatest parts of being in California is that you will meet people from all over the world. It feels weird being back in Mexico because everyone looks the same, speaks the same language and are basically the same,” Solorio said. “Over here, you are surrounded by people from different countries, cultures and languages, and I think a lot of students take that for granted because being surrounded by differences helps people grow.”
Despite the harsh expectations that come along with the second-generation experience, Chui is grateful for the variety of opportunities in America.
“When my mom was in Singapore, they only had two colleges, and my mom got into one of them,” Chui said. “Over here, there are so many options with community college, private and public. It is definitely taken for granted, so I feel very lucky to live here.”