Jennifer Phung is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and works as an environmental and social justice organizer.

Jennifer Phung is the daughter of Chinese immigrants and works as an environmental and social justice organizer.

Allison Frost/OPB

What do we mean when we talk about achieving the “American Dream”? Who is we? And is the Dream still relevant today? We’re exploring all those questions and more with Oregonians leading up to the November 2016 election. We’re gathering survey responses and talking with people on Think Out Loud to get a variety of perspectives on the “American Dream.”

Jennifer Phung moved to Portland from the San Francisco Bay area where she was raised. Her parents had a longer journey. They were ethnic Chinese living in Vietnam and eventually immigrated to the U.S. after the Vietnam War. Phung says she had very traditional ideas about what life in America should be.

“Growing up, the American Dream was the typical narrative around having a home, having a house with a car and the picket fence, and having stability.”

Phung says her mother believed this was possible: that if you worked really hard you’d be successful — even though that never really happened.

“At a very early age, I knew that we were poor, and I knew that my family had a lot of arguments around money. And it was not the case where if you worked hard you can work your way up, because my parents definitely worked their butts off.”

Phung says in her job now, working with young people now as an an environmental organizer for Opal, she likes to think that she’s working on a more socially equitable version of the American Dream.

The American Dream for me is really creating a world where everyone can really thrive and be really healthy and happy — one that doesn’t exploit people; one that doesn’t actually continue to harm our planet and our land and our water.

Our series on the “American Dream” explores the origin of the idea, and how it’s playing out for Oregonians — from various walks of life — leading up to the presidential election.

Take our survey, and give us your version of the American Dream.