Dialogue with Abigail: How Latino Immigrants Struggled for the American Dream

“The American Dream was the opposite of what they thought it was.” Abigail, a member of the LEAD Program by Diversity Initiatives and a sophomore at NYU Shanghai from America, organized a panel on the story of Latino immigrants in the United States. Abigail shared with OCA about her personal experience and opinion on what it means to a Latino American.

The Office of Diversity Initiatives, which have contributed to the NYU Shanghai community by providing a platform for people to express themselves, held a series of exciting events during this year’s ally week. 

Abigail, a Mexican-American sophomore at NYU Shanghai and part of the LEAD program, organized a panel about migration from Mexico and Central American countries to the United States  . Abigail shared with OCA about her personal experience and opinion on what it means to be Latin American.

1.    Why did your family decide to immigrate to the United States?

I guess it’s because of the same notion of the American Dream that me video emphasizes on. My parents are  from a rural area in Mexico. All they did was work and sleep at the farm. And they would hear a story about El Norte or the “North” , which is referring to America, and how people are making a lot of money there and how it is such a great place. Before my parents went, it was true that people would make a lot of money without too many struggles. My Dad and my mom knew each other when they were children and when they grew up they decided to move to the US. It was for money, and for a better lifestyle for themselves and their future children. That’s why they left Mexico, but it was not as amazing as they heard it was.   

2.    Did your family believe in democracy in America? 

I don’t even think they knew  what democracy was . At least, they did believe that America was a place of freedom. They thought they could do whatever they dreamed of and that they could take advantage of any of the opportunities that America offered. But when they arrived in Chicago it was a different story.  

A still from Abigail’s film of Abigail’s grandma and grandpa with 8 of their 16 kids in Jesus Maria, Jalisco, Mexico. Abigail’s grandpa is describing his view of the United States 45 years ago.

3.    How do you and your family identify yourselves? Do you struggle with your identity?

I do struggle with my own identity and it’s really hard at times. In the United States, if someone saw me on the streets they wouldn’t view me as “real”  American. They often ask me where I am from and if I answered America they will ask me where I am originally from, as they are referring to my skin and tone. But when I’m in Mexico people know I’m  not a “real” Mexican and they consider me as an American. When my friends or relatives are introducing me to other people, they will say: “This is my friend Abigail from Chicago.” So I’m not either fully American or Mexican. I’m somewhere in between. 

My parents don’t usually talk about how they feel. But from my observation, they still consider themselves as Mexican. 

Abigail and her dad at a restaurant that he worked at in Chicago, Illinois, USA. Abigail’s mom is describing her personal experience as a waitress.

4.    Would you mind to share us with some stories of your family striving to pursue the American Dream? 

When they first arrived in the United States, they just lived in a small room for themselves inside someone’s house. They had to work for someone. They would work 12 hours 7 days a week, they had very low wages, they were treated pretty badly by their bosses, and they couldn’t trust anyone because everyone realized once they got to America everyone was to their own. They worked in a restaurant, my mom was a waitress and my dad was a cook. They could be treated badly by customers, sometimes it was  just because my parents were not able to speak English well. Even if they worked very hard every day they would still be treated horribly by their bosses and customers. They would get taken advantage of and they were working overtime for very little money. However, they couldn’t say no because they had no other choice and they needed the money.. And so the American Dream was the opposite of what they thought it was. 

5.    What do you and your family think about Trump’s immigration policy? 

Trump has only been influencing America for that last three years and my parents don’t care too much about him. Trump being the president is just another thing they have to deal with… they have dealt with a lot more worse things. They always tell me we just have to keep going. That is what America has taught them. 

6.    Do you think NYU Shanghai makes you feel more comfortable about your identity? 

NYU Shanghai doesn’t necessarily make me feel more comfortable. But it did allow me to realize what was going on with my identity. Because when I first came here I saw people separate themselves with groups and I didn’t necessarily know which group I belong to because I’m both American and Latina. I was driven to think about who I was and where I was really from. This gradually led to where I am today and the project I did. 

Movie recommended – West Side Story

Set in New York City in the mid 1950s in an ethnic and working-class neighborhood, West Side Story is a musical that explores the conflicts between the Sharks, the Puerto Ricans immigrants, and Jets, the local white Ameican gangsters. The musical also includes a melancholy love story between Tony, a member of the Jets, and Maria, a beautiful lady from the Sharks. The story ended with Tony shot by the Sharks, which is a revenge to Tony because he killed the leader of the Sharks, who is also Maria’s brother. Maria told all the gang members in anguish that they were all responsible for the tragedies. 

Although criticized to be a copy of Romeo and Juliet, the dark theme, the sophisticated plot, the extended dancing, and the focus on social problems won the production of West Side Story nominations of Tony Awards and Academy Awards. 

A street fight between Latino immigrants and local white Americans in which two of the men from both sides holding knives in their hands and the other people standing aside watching. This picture is from the musical West Side Story, which tells the story of how Latino immigrants struggled to make a living when they first moved to America.  (Picture from the musical West Side Story (1961))

This article was written by Sicheng Fan. Please send an email to managing@oncenturyavenue.com to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Abigail Mata Hernandez

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