This is part of a series of opinions various Viewpoints staff members have on the American dream. Read the previous one here.
By Leo Cabral
The American dream is a nightmare.
My immigrant great-grandfather Fortino, 86, lives in a mobile home park and does custodial work for park management. My 61-year-old nana Diana, who Fortino helped get into the United States when she was about 26, lives in the same mobile home park and cares for patients not much older than herself.
My mother Wendy, 43, was brought to the States at 8 years old and struggles to keep a residence for much longer than two years at a time. She, my younger siblings and I never stayed in one place too long and we usually lived with other families throughout my childhood.
My siblings and I have been staying with partners, friends or family for a couple of years now and we can only dream about affording an apartment together.
Still, many of my immigrant relatives buy into the American dream.
This dream was never meant for working class people of color, queer, transgender people and especially the indigenous people of the Americas.
It thrives on exploiting people by tricking them into thinking they’re a contributing and functioning member of society.
In reality, many people are cogs in the very machine that grinds them down daily while an elite few grow disproportionately wealthy off their criminally underpaid work.
It is an imaginary checklist that keeps people’s heads down and distracted from their community, mutual aid, freedom and the things that will truly bring them happiness.
The belief that anyone can reinvent themselves, lift themselves out of poverty and live out their success story is restrictive and rooted in capitalism and White supremacy.
It is a lie created only a few centuries ago by White slave owners and colonizers with inherited or established wealth. It’s a lie upheld and greatly mythologized by a select few with power over those centuries. The myth was so potent that even those disenfranchised by the American dream have died trying to obtain it.
Those who haven’t died are still working themselves to the bone, like my great-grandfather.
The further a person is from Whiteness, male privilege, wealth and Puritan values — or intersectionalities, which are the overlapping systems of oppression that one experiences, as coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw in 1989 — the more difficult a time they have obtaining the American dream.
Realtors have historically red-lined Black and Hispanic homebuyers to environmentally unhealthy parts of cities, banks have given out fewer loans to Black clients and Indigenous communities are consistently poisoned while state and federal governments do nothing.
How can one pick themselves up by the bootstraps and become financially stable when they’re systematically set so far behind?
Even when someone with several intersectionalities slips through the cracks and obtains financial success in America, they can continue to perpetuate systems of oppression while still being vulnerable to experiencing oppression and discrimination themselves.
We need to decolonize the American dream. The focus should be on mutual aid, indigenous sovereignty, community activism, unionizing and so much more.
It’s time to stop kidding ourselves with the American dream. The grind isn’t going to save us.