I keep hearing that inequality and flawed systems have killed the American Dream. Today’s news is littered with social and political turmoil so discouraging that it shakes me to my core. However, I firmly believe that the American Dream, which once fueled the entire nation, is still alive and well. Through my story, I intend to inspire those of you who have given up hope.
James Truslow Adams coined ‘the American Dream’ in his 1931 book The Epic of America. He described this ideology as, “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with the opportunity for each according to their ability or achievement.” With this declaration, he wasn’t referring to a purely material prosperity, but rather the idea that every individual could have the opportunity to succeed without social barriers. This very promise is what inspired my parents, Luis Forero and Silvia Cubides, to sell everything they owned and say goodbye to their loved ones to come to the United States. When all was said and done, they had $5,000—$2,000 of which was spent on plane tickets—in their pockets and were hauling two kids under the age of 10 with only relentless faith to keep them moving.
I was born in Bogota, Colombia, a city seemingly identical in size and diversity as New York City or Chicago, but in reality plagued by classism and tainted with a dark reputation. Colombia is by no means impoverished or underdeveloped, but job security and opportunity are fleeting luxuries shared between 48 million people. In 2000 when my parents decided to move to the United States, my father was a well-educated civil engineer whose only fault was being an ambitious man in a country with little opportunity for growth. He found himself unemployed after yet another year of working odd jobs, as life had pushed him, his wife, and his two young children to a region outside of the city that promised only an unstable future. They were not the only family in these circumstances, but it was my parents’ bold decision to move to the United States and risk everything for a better future that made them different. In this was and still is the American Dream.
During the past 17 years, my family has endured racism and prejudice not unlike many other immigrants. However, the American Dream is not for the easily offended or the unambitious. This ideology is about opportunity; opportunity that is obtained through hard work and fierce ambition. Some may say opportunity is scarce, but I believe opportunity is everywhere; you just have to have the right mindset to appreciate it. In this spirit I found Education at Work, the organization that changed my life.
I knew from a very young age that if I were to pursue higher education, it would come out of my pocket. Because of this, my focus has always been academically oriented because I knew that scholarships were my only avenue to affordable higher education. Despite my efforts, I started college in August of 2013 facing about $9,000 of out-of-pocket tuition per year.
After two years of living with my parents and saving every dollar I earned from babysitting to pay for tuition, I began to consider transferring or taking a year off to catch up financially. However, God had a different plan for me in mind because that is when I found Education at Work.
The same resilient spirit that fueled my parents and now fuels me, I have seen manifested in every student that I’ve had the pleasure of working with at Education at Work. Education at Work is an organization that is fueled by ambitious students who recognize the value of having a college degree and refuse to let the weight of high tuition costs inhibit their futures. Each of their stories are as colorful as mine and filled with hope for this American Dream. I will graduate in May of 2017 having earned $12,000 in tuition assistance and prepared to excel in any career I choose thanks to the experiences I have gained while working in this inspiring organization.
So for those of you who have given up on the American Dream, I beg that you reconsider. I will introduce you to 500 Education at Work student-employees across the nation who have looked beyond the voices telling them they will fail in pursuing a stronger and brighter future. That, to me, looks an awful lot like living the Dream.
About Laura Forero
Laura Forero is a marketing assistant at Education at Work. She is currently a senior at Xavier University studying public relations, advertising, and digital media. She enjoys reading, writing, and following PR crises unfold in modern day media. Connect with her on LinkedIn.