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Is the American Dream alive and well? It’s a matter of perspective.

Everyone’s been doing a lot of complaining lately, myself included. Liberals and conservative alike seem to think that there’s a lot wrong with this country, and we are in dire need of major reform.

Right or wrong, many Trump supporters voted for this man–who has zero political experience–precisely because they think Washington is corrupt and desperately needs a fresh point of view. They’re ready to repeal Obamacare and build a wall to keep out the undesirables (read: undocumented Mexican wanna-be immigrants). Right or wrong, Clinton supporters are freaking out because they’re sure that Trump’s election means we’re about to go backward with civil rights–right when we were about to make some major progress. While many of them think Obamacare is a good thing, others found it lacking, because they felt a single-payer system was the optimum goal, and the bill didn’t go far enough to reform our messed-up healthcare situation. Nobody’s happy.

But I had an experience the other day that gave me a new perspective on this stuff.

I was sitting in the nail salon, getting a manicure from a Vietnamese girl of 20 who I call my surrogate daughter. Her mother passed away when she was just a kid. She’s super smart and a hard worker. And she’s so sweet. I just love her to bits and pieces.

Mindy (her American name) is a student at a local community college. And on this particular day, she asked me for some help with her homework, which was an essay. English is her second language, so some of her writing assignments (understandably) feel pretty overwhelming to her.

She told me that the topic was the American Dream. The question they were to answer was, “Is the American Dream still alive?”

I snickered. My knee-jerk reaction was “um…no.” I mean, these days–especially where I live in Silicon Valley, where the median home price in most areas is close to a million dollars–it’s almost impossible for young people (or anyone, really)  to buy a house. Unless a couple makes a couple hundred thousand dollars a year, they’re going to be renting (and rental prices are often more than the monthly payment on a mortgage). They will probably not be able to stay in this area and have the same standard of living as their parents.

But then I asked her a question. Her answer changed my perspective immediately.

I said, “Well, why did you come here from Vietnam?” Her answer was that there was little opportunity for her there. Even if she went to college, she said, your family had to know someone in a good business to get a job there. And even if they *do* have good connections, your family would still have to bribe the proprietor to secure you a position.

I thought about this for a second. “Wow–really?” I said. “You have to bribe someone to get a job?” I had a hard time wrapping my head around this. “You have to pay someone to pay you?” Huh?

Suddenly, a lightbulb clicked on in my head. Maybe the American Dream–especially where an immigrant is concerned–is to come to a land that has an even playing field. A place where hard work and good character earn you a worthy opportunity. Maybe not a home in Silicon Valley,  but certainly a reasonable job at a decent company, where you can get started in life and save some money for your future.  Outside of Silicon Valley, you can probably have a lot more.

Mindy and I discussed this. I think we both came to the conclusion that maybe we’re just a little (a lot?) spoiled in the United States. Maybe our expectations are so high and our sense of entitlement is so great that we’ve just lost our frame of reference. Certainly, when you compare our lives to those of people in other countries, we’ve got it pretty damn good.

So, at the end of the day, I think the American Dream is, indeed, alive and well. It’s all just a matter of perspective.

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