Final paper

Woroud Shuaib
Professor Steven Alvarez
English 255
12 May 2012

A Struggle for the American Dream: Sacrifice and Adversity in William Carlos William’s “Apology”, “Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad! José Luis González’s The Night We Became People Again and Grandma Please Don’t Come by Jesus Colon.

Cover Letter

Taking English 255 this semester has definitely helped my writing tremendously. I was introduced to PIE paragraphs which are so helpful in writing essays and articles in the near future. In addition, we were taught how to master citing in MLA format which is useful for not only this class but in any college class. Not only did we pay close attention to our writings but we read quite interesting stories this semester. They were eye opening texts/ stories that really made me aware of some of the issues that are present for Latinos. Overall, I enjoyed taking this class and I recommend anyone to take English 255 with Professor Alvarez. Although we did a lot of writing for a non- writing intensive class, I can’t say that it wasn’t helpful. All our writings helped us in our 12 page paper. I also enjoyed writing these blogs because after I read a text after a period of time I would forget what it is about. Having this blog to refer back to was really useful. The only negative thing I would have to comment on is the actual discussions we had during class time. We barely had any because some days we spent too much time on my classmates’ blogs. I think that part wasn’t as helpful because although it provided feedback for that one student it took away class time. Other than that, I enjoyed this class greatly and I am glad I was privileged enough to take English 255 with Professor Alvarez.

In this article I am going to write about The American Dream and how it has given false hope to Latino immigrants in New York City. It is evident that our readings have shown us that the American Dream has been otter inaccessible to Latino immigrants. Yes, they have job opportunities but the jobs are demeaning. They have been forced into an unfamiliar environment in which the established system is against them. It leads to questions such as is the American Dream a lie? Over-rated? Are they just better off staying in their native country? Through the texts we have read and videos we have watched they are probably more disadvantages then benefits and so The American Dream may just be an illusion. The texts that I will be focusing on are William Carlos Williams’ poem “Apology” and “Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad!” and Luis José González “The Night We Became People Again” to show the struggles Latino’s face in hopes to achieve this American Dream. Also, I plan to use the clip titled “Immersion” to show a specific example of prejudice against Latino students in a school environment. In addition, I plan to use “Grandma Please Don’t Come” by Jesus Colon to show the realization the Latinos have after coming to the United States, New York specifically. In my theory section I plan to use Michael Steel’s “The Kind of Immigration Reform Americans Want” and Michael Schudson’s “American Dreams”.

Intro: Latino Immigrants Striving for a Dream

Human beings usually want the best for their family and for themselves. For most people it is essential to save up money for the future but at the same time still have money for tomorrow’s meal and other bills they may encounter. Usually many people may live in poor countries that make it almost impossible to make a living in and so they are forced to migrate. Some migrate without their families, leaving them lonely. This than results these people to become immigrants and strangers to a whole new land. They hope their lives will be auspicious and this long life dream of becoming successful will one day become reality.

One specific race that usually strives for this better future after migrating from their home land is Latinos. Latino immigrants specifically come to New York and fight to feed their families back home. They try their hardest to make their families proud because going back to their native countries without a ‘successful” job conveys failure. Thus, they work their hardest to reach this dream in where they can make all their families proud, but also make themselves proud as well.

However, unfortunately, this American Dream that many Latino immigrants strive for remains a distant dream for most.When Latino Immigrants come to New York, they usually don’t assume it will be difficult. In addition, because Latino immigrants aren’t as educated, and desperate to get any job to make money, they often get stuck with belittling jobs that require long shifts at work. Nevertheless, Latino immigrants work their hardest for the American Dream that seems unreachable and unattainable because of the demeaning jobs, language barriers, and discrimination. In this article, I will illustrate the struggles Latino immigrants face when coming to New York, specific examples of these struggles and the disappointments they have after realizing the American Dream may just be an illusion.

What is The American Dream?

Latino immigrants specifically, struggle to achieve this American Dream. They often sacrifice, and work their hardest for this dream that seems almost impossible to achieve which then leads one to question the American Dream and whether it’s over-rated and exaggerated. But before we ask ourselves these questions what exactly does the American Dream mean? Perhaps people have many thoughts about this dream but what exactly does it consist of? Michael Schudson’s article titled “American Dreams” describes this dream through his perspective. He points out that:

All people are free to pursue the dream, regardless of background, with a ‘reasonable anticipation though not the promise, of success’ through actions under their own control—and doing so is worthy of deep commitment because “true success is associated with virtue’ (Hochschild 18). The American dream is ‘the great national suggestion’ (171) that anyone, with hard work according to the rules, has a reasonable prospect of succeeding in life.

According to Schudson, he states that “all people are free’ to accomplish this dream no matter where they come from. That with hard work and dedication it may be attainable. In addition, he adds that in order for one to reach success they must have “virtue” which includes having a good trait or good intentions. As Schudson points out, the socially constructed American Dream results from a “great national suggestion”. In other words, Schudson illustrates that as a nation, we have made up the definition and with “hard work” it will result in success. Essentially, Schudson says “regardless of the background” anyone can achieve this Dream. Here, one sees the reason as to why Latino immigrants come to another country for this Dream. They believe that everybody no matter where one comes from can reach success and can accomplish this dream. They may hear stories of immigrants succeeding or actually seen others succeed and therefore believe that they can become successful just like them. However, Latino immigrants do not think of the demeaning jobs and situations they will encounter once they get here; the dehumanization they face and the things they sacrifice. But it seems like the Latino immigrants face more disadvantages than benefits and so the American Dream may just be an illusion or never attainable.

Evidently through our readings the American Dream has been otter inaccessible to Latino immigrants primarily because of the demeaning jobs they encounter. These demeaning jobs may include working long hours, facing discrimination, and or hard labor. They have been forced into an unfamiliar environment in which the established system goes against them. Michael Steel’s article titled “The Kind of Immigration Reform Americans Want” exemplifies this idea that Latinos struggle to strive for this dream. He states:

Like so many immigrants, Hispanic-Americans and Latinos have endured danger and hardship and sacrifice, many risking it all for a chance at the American Dream. All of us are here today because we want to help unleash that dream.

Steel adds that trying to accomplish this dream has included tolerating danger and sacrificing many things. We see this many times, from Gonzales’s text titled “The Day We became People again” where the narrator leaves his life in Puerto Rico to live this American Dream. Steel uses the term “sacrifice” to show that Latinos leave their families or social status in their country to move here in order to make money and become successful. Constantly, Latino immigrants risk all they have and work long shifts to live this “American Dream”. In addition, he says that they have “endured danger”, which implies that Latinos may encounter danger because they don’t speak the language so they become a target by being picked on. Some specific examples of how Latino students get picked on by are by other students. In addition, they often don’t get the attention they need and teachers often ignore these students or do not supply them with effective materials in school. He adds that “all of us are here today because we want to unleash this dream”, which just exemplifies his point. Because most of us including immigrants of all ethnicities and Americans strive for the same things it makes it hard for people like the Latino immigrants to accomplish it. Since the language varies and so forth, the Latinos have to try even harder to be on top and we clearly have been seeing this throughout the texts.

Both these articles really explain effectively what this Dream consists of and the struggles one faces trying to achieve the American Dream. Schudson believes that anyone is capable of achieving this dream; however, Steel adds that they acquire a lot of hardships that may prevent them from achieving this Dream. Although Schudson says that anyone is “free” in achieving the American Dream, steel thinks otherwise. Latino immigrants go through so much struggle and adversity that make it even harder for them to achieve this dream. Looking at Steel’s article closely I believe his article makes a fine argument. Essentially Schudson makes a valid point, everyone is free but Steel looks specifically at the Latino immigrants and the things they sacrifice and give up which makes them struggle and not become “free” anymore.

Latinos in New York: Discrimination and Affinity

In his short story, Luis José González emphasizes the courage and compassion that comes along when sharing adversity and he does it cleverly through humor. In “The Night We Became People Again”, the speaker tells the readers the story of a moment he will never forget. The narrator gets the news that his pregnant wife may give birth sooner than expected. He leaves work early to see his child’s birth; however, he encounters a problem on the train. He gets stuck because he learns that a blackout has occurred. Discrimination plays a dominant role in the literature works we have read so far and the narrator experiences inequity .Because of his skin color the narrator gets intelligently downgraded. As he says:

He [co-worker] thinks I don’t know, but any day now I’m going to tell him that I’m not as dumb as he might think. These people think that you come from the sticks and don’t know the difference between sandpaper and toilet paper, especially if you’re a bit darker skinned and your hair is kind of kinky”.(740)

This shows that natives usually assume that immigrants lack intelligence making them inferior. For example, as the narrator points out, natives believe that immigrants can’t distinguish the differences between “sandpaper” and “toilet paper”, although they differ vastly. These papers greatly contrast, and this emphasizes how unintelligent the narrator gets portrayed just because he is an immigrant. The idea of race appears again because his appearance fools everyone. Intriguingly he says “especially if you’re a bit darker” which perpetuates this negative perception. This illustrates how skin color plays a major role in American society. Therefore, his skin color and immigrant status account for getting treated unequally. Just like Steels article mentions the Latino immigrants acquire “hardship”. Here the narrator is portrayed unintelligent and this may result in him not getting treated equally and such. When his co-workers speak to him, they may speak down to him because he in an immigrant. Like Steel says, immigrants are faced with hardships because now the narrator might not get job opportunities that can make him closer to the American Dream because they think he’s “dumb”.

In José Luis González‘s short story titled “The Night We Became People Again”, the speaker experiences a blackout in New York City. This Puerto Rican native almost misses his child’s birth because he gets stuck on the train during the blackout. When he finally makes it, he sees his son and attends a rooftop party in his building. While attending this party, the speaker makes a remarkable discovery about a night he will never forget. In this final scene on the rooftop, the speaker looks up and sees a perfect image of the sky and the stars. Seeing this makes him start reminiscing:

I thought of my newborn son, and what his life would be like here; I thought of Puerto Rico and my folks and everything that we left behind, just out of need; I thought of so many things that I’ve already forgotten… according to my poor way of understanding things, that was the night we became people again. (747)

This blackout makes the speaker remember everything including his life in Puerto Rico. Living in the fast rhythm of New York one tends to forget about the significant things in their lives especially as in the case of the Puerto Rican narrator. However, having the blackout and the party makes him remember his home and all that he sacrificed in search for a better future. Thinking of that, the stars that are rarely seen because of the million blubs visibly show now. This moment makes him and his neighbors “people again”. Trapped in the idea of the “American Dream”, assiduously, Latino immigrants work hard which takes their humanity away. Therefore, Latino immigrants make every effort to accomplish this dream in New York “the city that never sleeps” and never sleep as well. Symbolically, when the city sleeps by getting a blackout, the narrator and the others get to take a moment where they look back and realize their spiritual affinity with their homeland. The idea that both these countries reveal similarity in ways they never realized before makes him and his neighbors sane and human. This experience has made him a stronger individual. Again, one can see the connection Steel mentions in his article. It is evident that the narrator has sacrificed his life to come and live this American Dream. Because of all the hardships he has encountered he feels dehumanized and this night has made him human again. Also, one can argue that as Steel’s article mentions, the narrator “risks” his humanization for this American Dream.

Struggling Latinos: Immigrant Optimism for Social Mobility

William Carlos Williams conveys strong themes about Latinos struggling through his poem titled “Apology”. The Latinos have done many things for this country but as the speaker points out, they do not get recognition for it. From early on in the poem, Williams’ writes “Why do I write today?”(Line 1), which suggests that he is the speaker. The speaker dedicates this poem to show that the Latinos have done a lot but don’t get acknowledged for it. Williams thinks about the importance of the ignored Latinos:

colored women
day workers–
old and experienced–
returning home at dusk
in cast off clothing
faces like
old Florentine oak.
The set pieces
Of your faces stir me-
Leading citizens- (lines 6-16)

Williams has realized the invisibility the Latinos face and simply calls attention to it by writing this poem. In this stanza he uses great imagery to emphasize how these Latinos or working classes are often ignored by society. Williams’ mentions that they come at “dusk”, which implies that they work long shifts, come home truly late and simply unnoticed. Williams’ adds that these “colored women” are day workers and they are “old and experienced”. Interestingly, he says ‘colored” which implies that these women are Latino race, because most of these women are categorized as “colored”. In addition, these women are “day workers” and probably work as somebody’s nanny or housekeeper since they are “colored”. Not only does discrimination appear in Williams’ poem but also adversity as well. He compares these women’s faces to an “Old Florentine Oak”, which builds a detailed imagery. Because these women come from a long day and work really hard, they come home really tired and their faces resemble an “Old Florentine Oak”. Thus these women faces look tired and old from all their day work and the things they have encountered in work. Here Williams’ stresses how Latinos work really hard but do not get noticed as much as they should. Moreover, he states in the last line of the poem, that “Of your faces stir me/leading citizens” which suggests Williams’ audience. Other citizens are recognized for their shifts at work, which imply people from the higher class. In addition, Williams’ mentions the word “citizens” which is essential because of these women who come home from their day jobs exhausted might just be illegal citizens. They may have not documentation that requires them to have a better job thus leaving them “old and experienced”. Evidently, he then says “but not/ in the same way,” suggesting the importance of these people but the lack of recognition they receive. Latinos usually get ignored but have the greatest importance to society.

Williams’, “Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad captives the struggles immigrants experience when they come to live this “American Dream”. The Latinos could relate to this poem because they come here for a better lifestyle but when reality kicks in, these dreams become just dreams. Williams’ does a clever job conveying this message with his poem, as one of the speakers wants to give up on this dream that the second speaker insists on always keeping on to this dream. Evidently both men are poor and have nothing to live up to. He points out, how these Latinos hang on to this dream forever, but realize it may be the d

ream itself that may destroy them:
You sullen pig of a man
you force me into the mud
with your stinking ash-cart!
—-if we were rich
we’d stick our chests out
and hold our heads high!
It is dreams that have destroyed us (lines 1-8).

One of the speakers states how he’s a “pig of a man” which shows how inhumane he thinks of him. Pigs usually have associations with ugliness and often thought low of and the fact that he’s calling him one exemplifies how low he thinks of him. Williams then adds how, “It is dreams that have destroyed us”. The speaker implies that dreams give him false hope. They work hard every day to strive for their dreams but in the end it has destroyed them because none of their dreams have become reality. Like Schudson’s article points out “all people are free to pursue the dream”, and the speakers of this poem believe in this greatly. They believe that although they are immigrants they can still become successful in life. The poem has a theme of optimism in dreaming, whether or not the dream actually comes true or not. This dream is specifically moving socially up, a wish for wealth in order to escape desperation. Or, at the very least, a desire for pride, something to justify “stick[ing] our chests out.” The Latinos come here wanting a better lifestyle, and they never give up on this dream and recognition for their hard work. Williams’ poem shows the inevitability of Latinos usually having no social mobility, but also the optimism that comes from trying, from dreaming. The speaker feels aspired for Latinos to become “rich” or at least have some reason to “hold our heads high,” but fails in the attempt.

When a family migrates to New York, not only do they struggle to make ends meet, their children struggle as well. In this clip titled “Immersion”, it is evident the kind of struggle and hardship a child goes through from being an immigrant. In this clip a young boy who is new to this country has trouble in his math class. However he is having trouble not with content but with the language. Of course as most of us know math does sometimes have word problems and so in this clip he encounters them and has trouble understanding what they are asking for. Because he doesn’t know the language, this young boy struggles and faces discrimination in a classroom environment.

When the teacher goes over it and he gets the numbers down, he solves it quicker then other students, but again, has trouble saying the number in English. After he finally knows how to say it English, the teacher asks him to explain. Although he knows the answer and he knows how he got the answer, he can’t speak the language to explain it. When the real exam is given out it cannot be translated for him nor can he use his dictionary. This may result in the boy failing because he doesn’t have the resources he needs and it is just sad. This is what immigrant student’s face and new rules and instructional modifications need to be implemented because he is not getting a fair chance in education. Again one can see the connection this video has to Steel’s article as this clip exemplifies one of the “hardships” Latino immigrant students encounter. Because he doesn’t know the language, he is struggling academically thus preventing him from getting an education and one day achieving this dream.

Realization of The American Dream

When migrating to New York Latinos usually don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. They picture a utopia life in where they believe everything won’t be difficult and they will make money easily. However, this all changes when they actually arrive to America and step foot in New York and realize life isn’t what they expect it to be. They experience a whole new different life and become conscious of the reality of things. Jesus Colon’s story titled Grandma Please Don’t Come illustrates the realization Colon has after coming to New York. Like many immigrants, he was expecting his migration to be completely different than it turned out to be. Colon tells his grandma:

It is nice if you are young and willing and able to go down five flights of stairs two or three times a day. If you can “take it” in a crowded subway where you are squeezed in tight twice a day as if you were a cork in a bottle. It is all right in a way—and remember—I only say in a way—for young strong people. We come to New York young and leave old and tired. All the fun and joy of life extracted from us by the hurry-up machine way of living we are forced to live here. (500)

Here Colon tells his experience to his grandma, and tells her that she shouldn’t come to New York. He adds that the “crowded subway” and going “down five flights of stairs two or three times a day” can be exhausting. In addition, he adds that “We come to New York young and leave old and tired” which may be the result of all the hard work he may encounter. Importantly, he says “we” which addresses his audience that are Latino immigrants. They come here “young” and ready however, they “leave old and tired” from all the hardships they encounter. As mentioned previously, like the long shifts, the prejudice and discrimination they may face. Evidently, Colon implies that living in New York isn’t as easy as he thought from the “hurry-up machine” way of life. In New York everything moves quickly and Colon isn’t used to this lifestyle. Interestingly, he says that all the “fun and joy” in New York isn’t present from the machinery, which again implies that he didn’t expect New York to be like the way it has been. Here one can see the realization Colon gets after actually experiencing coming to a new country. It is not all “fun and joy” and trying to reach the American Dream isn’t either.

Conclusion: It is only just a Dream

The Latino immigrant experience consists of hardship and unfortunately they rarely ever reach this American Dream. In this article I argued how the American Dream is almost impossible for Latino immigrants in New York because of the affinity, adversity and discrimination they encounter. After coming to America, Latino immigrants expect life to be alluring; however, that all changes when they actually come and live here. Like Williams’ poems and Colon’s texts illustrates it is evident that because of the hardships they encounter, they are prevented from achieving this dream. In addition, they face discrimination as shown in González’s text, and as Steel’s article points Latino immigrants sacrifice a lot for this dream that just seems like an illusion.

Evidently, one can see how immigrants everywhere struggle to send money back to their families in their homeland. Although some succeed, a lot do not and they end up spending most of their lives struggling to make ends meet. They work their hardest to reach this American Dream, however if it is just an illusion are immigrants just wasting their time? Future research into English literature of Latino immigrants should examine the male to female ratio migration and which gender succeeds the most. This is imperative because maybe studies will show that is easier for a certain gender to succeed as oppose to another.

Works Cited

Colon, Jesus. “Grandma, Please Don’t Come!”.The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature. Eds. Ilan Stavans, Edna Acosta-Belen, Harold Augenbraum, Maria Herrera-Sobek, Rolando Hinojosa, and Gustavo Perez Firmat. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 499-501. Print. 1961.

González, José Luis. “The Night We Became People Again.” Trans. Kal Wagenheim.The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.Eds. Ilan Stavans, Edna Acosta-Belen, Harold Augenbraum, Maria Herrera-Sobek, Rolando Hinojosa, and Gustavo Perez Firmat. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 740-747. Print. 1954.

Immersion.Media that Matters, 16 June 2009.YouTube. Web 12 May, 2012.
Schudson, Michael. “American Dreams.” American Literary History 16.3 (2004): 566-573. Project MUSE. Web. 2 May. 2012.

Steele, Michael. “The Kind Of Immigration Reform Americans Want.” Vital Speeches Of The Day 76.7 (2010): 303-305. Academic Search Complete.Web. 2 May 2012.

Williams, William Carlos. “Apology.”The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.Eds. Ilan Stavans, Edna Acosta-Belen, Harold Augenbraum, Maria Herrera-Sobek, Rolando Hinojosa, and Gustavo Perez Firmat. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 419-420. Print. 1917.

— “Libertad! Igualdad! Fraternidad!”The Norton Anthology of Latino Literature.Eds. Ilan Stavans, Edna Acosta-Belen, Harold Augenbraum, Maria Herrera-Sobek, Rolando Hinojosa, and Gustavo Perez Firmat. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2011. 419. Print. 1917.

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