I was supposed to be a lawyer (eventually President), my brother a doctor, and sister a nurse. My parents had this all planned out when they immigrated to Seattle in 1978 from the Philippines to get married and start a family. (My grandfather on my mom's side and his family were granted US citizenship for his service in the US Navy). They had a rare opportunity to chase the American dream, far from abject poverty, and customize their own future, family, and riches.
The fact that none of us fulfilled our predetermined occupations, at least so far, is only one of the many points of reality we confronted chasing the American dream. The painstaking process of assimilating in a culture that shared little in common with the Filipino Catholic culture that reared my parents, made for a lot of tears and fights. Why do my American friends get to spend the night at their friends house every Friday, while I stay home and study? We had a sense of duty to my parents for the sacrifice they made—the least we could do was do well in school. Growing up, the American dream felt like a farce. If anyone deserved an A+ for effort, it was my parents.
Turns out the American dream was not the promise of a McMansion with two Mercedes Benzes (Benzi?) in the driveway as it was advertised—it is much deeper than that. I am not wealthy, but I cannot help but wonder how many other Filipinos out there are living the same bougie artsy life, traveling the world performing, recording, and studying Renaissance music; and sharing choral music with all of you. On a darker note, how many people outside of the US still live under oppressive regimes where such a life is a pipe dream and live in constant fear of saying the wrong thing?
I admit it's slightly perverse to reflect on this on this particular 4th of July, where patriotic morale is the lowest I can remember. But maybe it's just the right time. Our social cohesion is being strength-tested like no other time in my lifetime, and our journey towards the 'pursuit of happiness' for all looks more daunting than ever. Not everyone is as lucky as I am, but I'm feeling grateful.
Today, I'm choosing to remember why it's all worth it. Tomorrow, it's back to work.