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Becoming an US citizen may not lead to the American Dream

A few days ago, I read a commentary written by a person born in South America who recently became an American citizen. The writer now works for a national immigrant-rights organization.

In her commentary, the writer says that now that she is an American citizen, she will be able to fulfill her goal of achieving the American Dream, because now, in her opinion, she will have “the same opportunities” everybody else have, if she works hard enough to achieve it.

I agree with the writer in the invitation to all who are eligible to become American citizens do so. I also agree with her that being a citizen means assuming the responsibility of becoming involved in civic and political activities. However, I disagree with her almost simplistic approach that becoming a citizen will solve all problems.

First, for many immigrants -including those with all their paperwork in order, with a good education, and with excellent English- the American Dream is a nightmare.  Second, becoming a citizen doesn’t mean that there will be more opportunities knocking at our doors or that new doors will automatically open because of our hard work.

I need to say I am an American citizen, and proudly so, since many years ago. I am deeply thankful to this country, that now I always call “my country,” for the numerous opportunities I received here.

But it would be irresponsible for me to say that becoming an American citizen solved all my problems. It would be even more irresponsible to suggest that only reason to make the important decision of adopting a new citizenship should be the desire of achieving the American Dream.

It’s enough to point out, for example, that Hispanics, just for being Hispanic, pay more for medical, life, and car insurance than other groups. In addition, we also pay more for mortgage loans and credit cards. And generally, Hispanics earn 30 to 50 percent less than a non-Hispanic person doing the same job with the same education and experience.

In other words, a Latino person has to work 10 to 12 hours a day to earn the same amount a non-Latino will earn in only eight hours. But even when and if we earn the same amount of money, we are always forced to spend more, for the reasons just listed above.

We could add many more examples, including lack of access to health care and to college education, high percentage of drop-outs among Latinos, and an overrepresentation of Hispanics among the inmate population. Where is then the American Dream? Where are the “same opportunities”?

Many immigrants do not pursue the American Dream, because it usually means to renounce to their traditions and culture, losing in the process their individual and community identities.

As for me, I encourage without reservations to all eligible immigrants to become citizens of this great country, my country. But I also encourage them to be realistic and measured. After all, reality not always follows what columnists write in their columns.

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