What do we mean when we talk about achieving the “American Dream”?
Who is we?
And how did we come up with those ideas? How does the Dream resonate today? Those are all questions we’re exploring in conversations with Oregonians leading up to the November 2016 election. Since August, we’ve gathered survey responses and talked with people on Think Out Loud to get a diversity of perspectives on the “American Dream.”
Ana del Rocío Valderrama has a good job, some would even say, an enviable one. She’s the chief of staff for democratic Oregon representative Jessica Vega Pederson. She gets to work toward the political goals she feels passionate about, but from a day-to-day working perspective, she says she struggles a single mother.
“Mostly I pinpoint that around my role as a mother to two young children and having to care for them, the lack of access to paid family leave, the lack of access to affordable child care, which in this state, costs more than public [college] tuition, without the ability to access those affordable services to care for my children, there’s no way for me to save and to achieve greater success.”
Valderrama looks at the American Dream not from an individual perspective, but as one piece of a greater whole.
“I think about my cultural ancestral traditions and success being defined not just for myself or for my family but for my community. And when I think about community success, the dream is to be able to care for everyone, especially the most vulnerable among us: children, elders, those with disabilities.”
Of course the primary responsibility for her children is hers, says Valderrama, but she also sees it as her responsibility to contribute to the care of the larger community.
“If I as a mother am not able to provide for my children or if my family cannot take care of my sick grandmother in Eugene, it’s a failure of a community. And that is an inability to dream.”
Even with a great education and excellent resume, getting work after graduating from college in 2008 was not easy for Valderrama. When she had her first child, she says, she relied on the support of her community.
“My co-workers actually donated their vacation time, so that I could have maternity leave when I gave birth to my 15-month-old.”
She says her grandfather who emigrated from Peru and who never learned English fluently, suffered mockery and discrimination. She says she knows he’s proud of her — but it’s qualified in a way.
“I know that he sees me struggle with my little ones, he sees me reaching out for help. He’s a very dignified but also a very prideful person, so that I have to ask for help from my community, I think to him is a mark of not quite being successful yet.”
What Valderrama wants for her two children is that they have everything that they need to create their own versions of the American Dream.
“I hope for them to be able to grow and feel that my generation did everything we could to set them up for success — in terms of their right to education, their right to health care, their right to affordable housing. I want them to feel like they’re set up with their basic needs to be able to accomplish whatever they would like.”