Writing “The American Dream”

Happy birthday to my dad, who would have been 67 today.

I’m about the same age now as he was in this photo, in his first year in the US, a new immigrant in the process of discovering the complexity of what the American dream really meant.

I joke with people sometimes that I’m doing the two things my parents didn’t want me to do–become an artist and run my own business. Several years after this photo was taken, my dad and mom opened a family restaurant as a means to an end. The restaurant biz is hard. The lives my parents led before the restaurant were hard. The last thing they would have wanted for me was the insecurity of working with my hands for my next paycheck. They wanted me to go after the types of jobs–and security–that they couldn’t get.

Maybe it was the long days and nights in the restaurant that taught me patience and endurance. Maybe while the adults were working and away, I learned to be with myself, to examine life well, to learn where my heart is even when my mind wanders. Maybe it’s natural for us to care about what others resent, and resent what others care about.

Maybe because I’m the daughter of two people with enough impetus and rebellion and chutzpah to migrate to another country with little knowledge of the language and without any intention of returning to their homeland, I got a little of that tenacity passed down to me. Maybe even though the “American dream” turns out to be a lot less pure and a lot more complicated than how it’s advertised, just the knowledge that it took SO much for my roots to get here before I even got my chance is enough to make me a little braver and more hopeful about what the “American dream” might mean for me.

Life gives us tragedy, life gives us luck. We have to acknowledge the first and wholeheartedly embrace the second. Someone recently told me, “You’re the right blend of tenacity and pragmatism,” and that means a lot. I choose work that requires me to exercise all my faculties: hands, mind, eyes, and heart. In all areas of life, I’m more interested in what’s best than what’s familiar. I find more excitement than insecurity in the building of my business and studio practice–the anticipation of opportunities and possibilities ahead, the purposeful choice of investing time, money, and effort into the skilled trades and human ingenuity I believe in.

Days like today are milestones for me, for reflection. We have the chance to challenge the paradigm of how things are done. The chance to leave behind the “master script” of the places where we came from, not to fall for another script, but to create what hasn’t been created yet. I count and hold dear every hard-earned lesson that has ingrained this in me. This is the real dream that people move here for.

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