Let me start by saying that I didn't grow up learning about The American Dream through American History. For those of you who did, I'm sorry. Unless you are a history buff, and we certainly know how exciting and fun those folks are, having to memorize all the planets, galaxies, character names, and battle strategies in Star Wars to understand "The Force" must have been quite a dull experience.
I learned about The American Dream, like many other immigrants, from a dreamer––in my case, my Puerto Rican grandmother.
In Beli's mind (as I used to call her), there was no bigger flame in the Universe lighting up the way to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness than the one on Lady Liberty's hand. I swear she could see that flame from the small window in her galley kitchen, where she cooked behind closed doors, rarely letting me inside, afraid that if she did, I would get trapped in the same fate as hers, forever.
Married at 17 with only an 8th-grade education, Beli served her kitchen sentence with a mixture of pride, selflessness, and an unwavering determination that her children and grandchildren would someday be educated enough not to have to cook for anyone unless they wanted to.
She didn't know a lot about her Dream's history or logistics and didn't feel she needed to.
Therefore I grew up thinking all you had to do was to believe in it. Like when Jack Dawson told Rose, in the movie Titanic, that in the land of the free and the home of the brave, she could drink cheap beers, ride a horse, chew tobacco, and spit like a man.
May I suggest you watch Titanic again. I do because it's the ultimate Independence Day Movie.
Rose boards The Titanic, called The Ship Of Dreams, a slave to a man. Then gets emancipated by a dreamer. Watching her arrive at the Statue of Liberty, looking up into her face, and starting a new life full of freedom and possibility is a happily-ever-after immigrant story.
My great grandfather dreamed of leaving Puerto Rico and taking his wife and three daughters, the youngest Beli, to a place out West called California. Like Jack, he never made it out west, but his California dreaming did. My mother, grandmother, and I settled in Portland, Oregon, where I started my own business, became a successful entrepreneur, and raised my family. Today his great great great grandchildren live in Seattle, Washington and of course, Los Angeles, California,
When George Floyd was murdered by a cop, people took to the streets to protest on behalf of the Black Lives Matter, and other people began to argue that all lives mattered. I was utterly confused by the great divide.
I wasn't black. I wasn't white. I wasn't raised as an American in this Country. When I moved here, I didn't have to take a test and learn about how government worked because Puerto Ricans are born American Citizens due to its "colony status." I never had a personal passion or any reason to take a deep dive into America's History of politics. I didn't know what to do, but I knew what to think. Saying all lives matter was like telling a neighborhood asking for help after a Hurricane devastation that all communities mattered.
I didn't understand how America, as one nation, could not see that Black lives hadn't mattered the same as while lives?
Besides the musical Hamilton and Lady Liberty, the only other symbolic gesture that stood out in my mind about The American Dream was Martin Luther King's speech, I Have A Dream. I was only 2-years old when he gave it. I was seven by the time his life was over.
I asked Dr. King to help me understand what had gone wrong with his Dream and read his Dream speech with this intention. I read three times in a row before I could believe what I was reading.
"There are those asking the devotees of civil rights, "When will you be satisfied?" We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. "— MLK I Have A Dream
"It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro's legitimate discontent will not pass until an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake our nation's foundations until the bright day of justice emerges." — MLK I Have A Dream
About The American Dream
"When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men, as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, which has come back, marked insufficient funds." — MLK I Have A Dream
How can we have so many streets named after Martin Luther King and not see that his "I Have A Dream" is still imprisoned by racism, inequality, and poverty?
There are over 900 streets named after King in the United States, with most of them being concentrated in Southern states. Living on a road with King's name means one is more likely to be black, poor, or both." — Washington Post
The states are the same states all those Confederate statues used to be until two months ago.
Then Dr. King led me on posthumous hunt to find his Easter Egg, receive his fortune, and help free the world, like in the book Ready Player One. I won. I found The Other America, A speech I didn't even know existed. The one he gave in 1968. Three weeks before his murder.
When you search on Wikipedia, it doesn't come up. Someone else's book does. It's not listed on Dr. King's Wikipedia bio page, but you can find it as a line item on his speeches and sermons. It's not even listed on Stanford University's The Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute under the Major King Events Chronology: 1929-1968 page. Where he first gave this speech in 1967.
It's Pretty Major.
This speech explains EVERYTHING happening right now.
King speaks of two Americas. One where millions of people experience the opportunity to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness every day. The other, a place where people experienced a reality that made the opportunity way harder to attain. He shares how the ongoing civil right struggles got harder and much more complicated over time because of two things:
1. Asking for Genuine Equality.
2. Racism still being alive in American society and more widespread, as in Hitler's kind of way.
"...it is as necessary for me to be as vigorous in condemning the conditions which cause persons to feel that they must engage in riotous activities, as it is for me to condemn riots. I think America must see that riots do not develop out of thin air. Certain conditions continue to exist in our society, which must be condemned as vigorously as we condemn riots. And in the final analysis, a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it that America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the Negro poor has worsened over the last few years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice, equality, and humanity. So in a real sense, our nation's summer's riots are caused by our nation's winters of delay. And as long as America postpones justice, we stand in the position of having these recurrences of violence and riots over and over again. Social justice and progress are the absolute guarantors of riot prevention." MLK — The Other America 1967
What White People Say To Justify Oppression
"A man was on the plane with me some weeks ago, and he came up to me and said, "The problem, Dr. King, that I see with what you all are doing is that every time I see you and other Negroes, you're protesting and you aren't doing anything for yourselves." And he went on to tell me that he was very poor at one time, and he was able to make something for himself. "Why don't you teach your people," he said, "to lift themselves by their own bootstraps?" And then he went on to say other groups faced disadvantages, the Irish, the Italian, and he went down the line. And I said to him that it does not help the Negro, it only deepens his frustration, upon feeling insensitive people to say to him that other ethnic groups who migrated or were immigrants to this Country less than a hundred years or so ago, have gotten beyond him and he came here some 344 years ago. And I went on to remind him that the Negro came to this Country involuntarily in chains, while others came voluntarily. I went on to remind him that no other racial group has been a slave on American soil. I went on to remind him that the other problem we have faced over the years is that this society placed a stigma on the color of the Negro, on the color of his skin because he was black. Doors were closed to him that were not closed to other groups. And I finally said to him that it's a nice thing to say to people that you oughta lift yourself by your own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he oughta lift himself by his own bootstraps. And the fact is that millions of Negroes, as a result of centuries of denial and neglect, have been left bootless. They find themselves impoverished aliens in this affluent society. And there is a great deal that the society can and must do if the Negro is to gain the economic security that he needs." MLK — The Other America 1967
Time is Not The Answer
"I think there is an answer to that myth, and it is that time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I'm absolutely convinced that the forces of ill will in our nation, the extreme rightists in our nation, have often used time much more effectively than the forces of goodwill, and it may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic words of the bad people and the violent actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people, who sit around and say, wait on time. Somewhere, we must come to see that social progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work of dedicated individuals, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation. And so we must have time, and we must realize that the time is always right to do right." — MLK The Other America 1967
Not Happy With The Street Situation
"But we must see that the struggle today is much more difficult. It's more difficult today because we are struggling now for genuine equality. It's much easier to integrate a lunch counter than it is to guarantee a livable income and a good, solid job. It's much easier to guarantee the right to vote than to guarantee the right to live in sanitary, decent housing conditions. It is much easier to integrate a public park than it is to make genuine quality integrated education a reality." — MLK The Other America 1967
Why I Responded To His Call
"It is said on the Statue of Liberty that America is a home of exiles. But it doesn't take us long to realize that America has been the home of its white exiles from Europe, but it has not evinced the same kind of maternal care and concern for its black exiles from Africa. And it is no wonder that in one of its sorrow songs, the Negro could sing out, "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child." What great estrangement, what great sense of rejection caused a people to emerge with such a metaphor, as they looked over their lives." — MLK The Other America 1968
He pointed me right back to my Lady Liberty, and this time she revealed something new.
I had no idea that it was only during the second half of the 19th century, that my Lady Liberty became a symbol of immigration. It was initially gifted by a group of French Abolitionists to recognize the importance of the slaves' liberation. Coming from people who decapitated their oppressors to make sure it happened. I'm sure abolishing slavery was super personal. Thus the reason that at her feet lie broken shackles of oppression and tyranny. Little did they know that chains would be broken, but the Dream of life, liberty, and happiness pursuit would be beyond difficult for many Black communities in this Country. Because there are two Americas, and I wasn't aware of the other.
Towards the end of his life, Dr. King talked like he was running out of time and he was, just like Hamilton!
The Other America was last speech but not his last sermon.
In his last I've Been to the Mountaintop, sermon Dr. King imagines God asking him, "Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?" After giving his birds-eye view of history, and all the places he could have stopped and stayed, he went on to say, that strangely enough, he would turn to the Almighty and say, "If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the twentieth century, I will be happy. Now that's a strange statement to make because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick, trouble is in the land, confusion all around. That's a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars."
It was as if he knew just how dark it was going to get in 2020.
Towards the end of this sermon, he refers to threats against his life from his "sick white brothers," he foreshadows his impending death, and affirms he's not afraid to die. They say he had tears in his eyes when he ended the sermon and took a seat.
The next day he was killed.
Dr. King's first assassination attempt was a woman who stabbed him in the heart with a letter opener by a mentally ill woman at 29-years old. After they sewed him up, they told him the wound was so close to his aorta that he would die if he sneezed. They say King's heart was in the condition of a 60-year-old man rather than that of a 39-year-old when he died. Doctors concluded the pressure he had experienced in his career had stressed and aged his heart.
When George Floyd called out to his mother with one of his last breaths, his Other mother, Lady Liberty, called on me a dreamer who knew the American Dream like the back of her hand, to fight and make The American Dream real for the Motherless in this Country.
Most of all, for Dr. King, whose heart now weighs on me.
Apparently, I wasn't the only one who got called. Twenty-six million other Americans, the stars he talked about, took to the streets in these dark times to protest, confront police brutality, systemic racism, and risk their lives to save the American Dream, the Great American Experiment.
The American Dream which is based on freedom and equality is what makes our strong economy, not the other way around.
In Behold, America Sarah Churchwell's book traces the evolution the "American Dream" turned into something else:
"The American Dream" has always been about the prospect of success, but 100 years ago, the phrase meant the opposite of what it does now. The original "American Dream" was not a dream of individual wealth; it was a dream of equality, justice, and democracy. The phrase was repurposed by each generation, until the Cold War, when it became an argument for a consumer-capitalist version of democracy. Our ideas about the "American Dream" froze in the 1950s. Today, it doesn't occur to anybody that it could mean anything else.' — Smithsonian Magazine.
Thank you for reading my story. I hope you share it. I hope you read the full versions of King's speeches at least three times. I dream you join me in ending racism for the good of our Country.
I dream you end it, not in word but in action.
The time is always right to do right, and that time is now.
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