“It doesn’t matter whether you’re black or white or Hispanic or Asian or Native American or young or old or rich or poor, abled, disabled, gay or straight. You can make it here in America if you’re willing to try.” -Barack Obama, election night 2012
Yup. This is the kind of thing the self-proclaimed “bad dreamers” have been saying sarcastically for a little over a year now. “Obama is African-American and he became president. What’s wrong with all you other African-American kids who aren’t succeeding, huh? This is America!”
“Bad dreamers” is one of the names that the youth in the L.A. “undocu-culture” have for themselves. They are undocumented immigrants who, for one reason or another, are not eligible for deferred action through the California DREAM Act, yet embrace their “illegal” status through civil disobedience, art, and scandalously sporting t-shirts that say UNDOCUMENTED in bright, rebellious lettering. Like the Dreamers, these immigrant youth came to the U.S. as children, but because they did not meet the requirements specified in the law, they’re still restricted from rights like voting, driving, and residing in the U.S.
Obama has been pushing for the federal DREAM Act since the beginning of his presidency, which would seem to be an act in support of the abovementioned quote from his 2012 victory speech. The night of the election, our president bragged about how “compassionate” and “generous” this country is to consider letting so many flag-pledging, immigrants’ daughters dream… but what about the “bad” ones? Does the fact that they are not eligible for deferred action mean that that they are criminals, not resilient, or not “willing to try”?
The sarcastic comment mocking Obama’s racial exceptionalism could be applied to the immigrant struggle as well: “What’s wrong with all you bad dreamers who didn’t make the cut, huh? This is America!”
Of course, there has to be a limit to how many immigrants can be allowed to apply for deferred action, and naturally, the U.S. would prefer the ones with good grades and clear records to stay in the country and work. But how can you tell if the ones who missed the cut really don’t deserve to be here, or are just the victims of a broken system (poor public education, coyote capitalism, forced migration, etc)?
It seems that because of dilemmas like this, we may never realistically be a country where a statement like “you can make it in America if you’re willing to try” isn’t a subtle “eff you” to all the immigrants who can’t legally work, drive, or vote in order to become real dreamers and succeed. I guess it’s understandable that amnesty can only go so far in a nation with many other pressing issues, but Obama definitely made a mistake during his speech when he implied that all the bad dreamers in California, many of whom grew up as English Language Learners in underfunded schools believing their very presence here was a bad thing, simply weren’t “willing to try.”
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This along with all other processes of evaluation require a much more holistic approach. I remember that when I was applying for college I tried to only apply to schools that emphasized holistic evaluations of the students, taking into account not only their grades and test scores, but also their essays, family life, and school situation. That is what the Dream Act needs to consider. Like Sofia pointed out, a student could have bad grades, but that didn’t mean that they didn’t try or that they are a bad student, it may just mean that they went to a bad school, had a problematic family life, or multiple other scenarios. I think that when it comes to something like giving someone citizenship we as a country should be focused more on the qualities of a person, not just their grades.
As you pointed out, Sofia, many times, especially during election periods of rhetorical exaggeration, the idea of the American Dream becomes a way in which many immigrants’ obstacles and struggles are devalued. Similar to the model minority theories applied to Asians, West Indians, and Desi Youth that imply immigrant resiliency and exceptionalism, the American Dream hyperreal fails to recognize those immigrants and individuals that for structural reasons or circumstances beyond their control, have not been able to advance socially and/or economically in our country. Although intending to give hope to traditionally marginalized communities, Obama’s quote instead has the affect of avoiding accountability for our government’s role in hindering the success of these communities. Because the truth of the matter is that in America, while you may survive, you may not necessarily be able to achieve your dreams, even if you try, without the support of policies and structural implementations that support and nurture your success.