May 3, 2010

Defining the Dream

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I’ve been hearing all this talk about the “American Dream” a lot since I’ve been here. When I was younger, I had no idea about its existence, and, for a good amount of time here, I haven’t really cared. To begin with, my national pride refuses to use the word “American” (“America” is not a country after all). However, this “American Dream” thing started taking a lot of force in everyone’s discussions on Saturday and I thought I’d say a couple of things on the matter.

Saturday was one of the most impressively bizarre days I have had in Ithaca so far. After spending four hours doing my Portuguese homework, suffering over how terrible my Neurophysiology lab report is going to end up, and taking an unexpected trip to Wegman’s that set me back for an hour or so, I met the people protesting against SB 1070 on the Commons around 3:30. About 200 people atteneded, if you count the people that go in and out and stuff. The big crowd gathered around the kiosk where music and speakers got together to talk, to protest and to get us all hot and bothery about a topic that SHOULD get us angry.

Then again, I’m preaching to the Pope here. Thank Ezra — we live in a wonderful, educated, common-sense place. It has escaped me too often, the realization that (hey) it actually is nice to live in a place that is smart — where multiculturalism is a source of pride and worth showing off, and a place that makes it hard to believe there are people out there as idiotic as those who passed SB 1070 last week. The same people that, two days later, passed a bill saying Ethnic Studies are also now considered illegal to teach in public school systems and the same that are making me, and countless others, feel that Arizona resembles Nazi Germany a lot more than it does a state in a country that, supposedly, prides itself in being the “land of the free.”

After Frida’s recounting of her journey from Guatemala to the Bronx (and crying my heart out at it, as she was), after hearing government officials putting their support behind the DREAM Act, after being there when people said that “what happened in Arizona will NOT happen in New York,”  it was sad to see Mary Jo’s pictures of five-year-old Julia’s deported parents. It was sad to realize that, yes, 10 miles out of Ithaca, things are still going on and there’s a ton of work to do. It felt nice to realize, however, that there are people here that care enough to make a difference. That someone is doing something.

I was honored to attend a friend’s wedding an hour after the rally ended. In the frenzy of quickly showering and prettying up, arriving at the venue, amid the tears of the bride and the parents and the food and the wine, I was taken aback by what a wonderful ceremony this was. Not only because the event was nice … but because it was full of people that represented why we take pride in this place. In that room, out of the maybe 70 people who attended, we probably had people from at least 15 different countries. Me and my husband, Mexican, got drunk with our Peruvian friend and his Belgian date, talking about tango with a Brazilian bandoneonist and his Colombian girlfriend. We laughed and danced with French and Israelis, and we all went nuts singing and jumping/dancing when “Dragonstea din tei” came on, possibly the most amazing dancing I’ve ever done to that song (bride and groom, as well as their families, are Romanian). We made jokes about different nationalities and reminisced about ’80s Italian pop music with the Italians; we danced funny moves with Indians and Korean dancers; I was surprised at how every single person in the room, old or young and regardless of nationality, sang and danced to Lady Gaga, and at how, regardless again of age or origin, we all loved the chocolate cake.

I feel proud to find myself belonging in a place where interculturalism is valued and respected. Where knowing about the world is something that makes you better, not somehow inferior. Even when this is not my country, Ithaca and Cornell represent a big part of my life. A part that is good, that makes me proud. Saturday’s wedding — its cosmopolitan atmosphere, its internationality, its happiness and outgoingness — if I were to define the “American dream” as anything, would be a hell of a good candidate.

Whoever those fuckers down in Arizona are, trying to have us believe that this is not the best version of the American Dream, should not be in positions of power. It is up to you, the citizens of this country, to make sure that is the case. As we end the semester, as we decide to ignore the fact that the world outside our bubble is sucking a little more every minute, make sure to remember that we are the ones that are going to have to change things. If not us, who else? And when else, but now?

Florencia Ulloa is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at [email protected]. Innocent Bystander appears alternate Tuesdays this semester.

Original Author: Florencia Ulloa