I recently read an interesting article at Vox.com about what the American Dream looks like today for immigrants. The article referenced a massive study by the National Bureau of Economic Research. Published in 2019, the study examined millions of father-son pairs of immigrants over the last century. The authors found that children of immigrants have higher rates of upward mobility than the children of those born in the U.S.
More significantly, they found that shifts in immigration policy and country of origin have not altered the pattern — and that it holds true whether the first generation was poor (in the bottom 25th percentile of income distribution) or relatively well-off (in the top 25th percentile).
For those who’ve personally watched upward mobility work within their families, the promises of the American Dream often feel like promises kept. Hard work and education led to significantly better outcomes for their children, with more stability for the entire family.
Immigrants Achieving the American Dream
My grandparents immigrated to America from Sicily with little money and few belongings to their name. They were moved through Ellis Island and settled in Brooklyn. They weren’t provided with government housing or given welfare checks.
Initially staying with relatives and friends of family, some they barely knew, they took menial jobs as they could find them. They saved every penny they could and as quickly as possible they secured an apartment, and then a better one until they purchased a home, and then a nicer one.
My grandfather started as a laborer and eventually became a bricklayer. My grandmother worked in the garment sweatshops, often starting work at 4AM. Literally, working their fingers to the bone. Yet, supper was on the table every day without fail.
Sundays were an open house for family and friends. My grandparents had no education. Nor did they ever own a car. All they wanted from America was opportunity and the chance for their children to have better lives than they did.
Well, they helped my Mom and I as my parents had divorced when I was a young child. We lived in their home with my two uncles. They helped one of my uncles start a business while putting my other uncle through college and medical school. And they never received, nor expected anything from the U.S. government. Yet, I had never heard them complain.
As they sailed past the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor they only wanted one thing and that was opportunity. They found it and capitalized on it without handouts, grants, welfare, etc. Truly, they wouldn’t have accepted any of it as they were very proud people. They lived for their dreams, and accepted their responsibility. I’m forever grateful for the foundation they built for our family.
A very good friend of mine, Gustavo Hernandez legally immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico with barely a dollar in his pocket. He worked his butt off, taking whatever job he could find and worked his way through the ranks of the restaurant industry. From doing menial jobs to waiter to assistant manager to manager to restaurant owner, he excelled at each position.
Over the years, he worked to attain U.S. citizenship and did the same for his wife, Betty who had immigrated from Central America. Betty worked at a local hospital as they started a family. Despite all the hardships they had gone through, they were determined to achieve the American Dream, and they did.
Gustavo started a restaurant with his brother. He made sure to bring in other family members along the way. In a relatively short period of time he started a second restaurant and then a third. He and Betty purchased a home, and eventually a second home while keeping the first one to rent to a friend of the family. Gustavo was already helping others within his family and community.
My wife and I were honored to be invited to attend Betty’s swearing in ceremony for her American citizenship. I’ll never forget how proud they were as they were now a family of American citizens. And like my grandparents, they never accepted anything from anyone in the way of financial assistance. I couldn’t believe how much money Gustavo spent to legally achieve American Citizenship for himself and for Betty. It was an insane amount of money!
One time Gustavo asked me why so many people that were born in America were unhappy and why so many had trouble finding and keeping a job. He said he couldn’t understand it as he had hundreds of friends that had immigrated to the U.S. and he didn’t know of any that were unemployed. In fact, some had two, three, and even four jobs!
As Gustavo’s eldest son was preparing to attend college, Gustavo came down with COVID and passed away two months later. The last time I had met with him, just days before he got sick, he informed me he had leased the restaurant where we had first met some fifteen or so years ago. He said it felt like he had come full circle.
Today, the new restaurant is open and his dream continues as his family has stepped up to keep his legacy alive. His son is still attending college. Gustavo’s influence carried on to two of his nieces who have graduated from college with degrees in mechanical engineering. The family continues to carry on Gustavo’s dream as he has helped them achieve their dream… The American Dream!
Have a great day. Make it happen. Make it count!