By Cynthia Nayeli Carvajal
“Did you ever think I would be doing this, moving to New York City for my Masters? Was this what you imagined for your sueño americano when we immigrated to this country?”
I asked my dad this question in the parking lot of an In-n-Out. I eagerly waited for an insightful response. He always has a spare one in his pocket in moments like these; ready at the turn of a phrase. But he stayed silent. Contemplating. ‘This is going to be a really good one,’ I thought to myself. ‘Must be if it’s taking this long to answer.’ I wanted to quickly find a notebook to write it down but didn’t dare to make any sudden movements incase it derailed his train of thought. I always wanted to mark down his insightful idioms and make a book out of them but I never had pen and paper at the ready. And I always felt it would seem so disingenuous. Shouldn’t it be savored in the moment and not saved for an arbitrary future? Anyway, I’m not much of a writer so what’s the point of —
“¿Cómo podría haber imaginar me algo que ni siquiera sabía que existía?”
“How could I have imagined something that I didn’t even know existed?” was his response.
And there it was, but this sabiduría struck a different cord in me than his previous ones. Mostly, it reminded me of just how naïve my question had been. Mi papá, sitting next to me lost in thought had always found himself at odds with his country and this home. A country and culture he abandoned and forced his family to abandon, in order to start a new life in another home.
A home that took his blood, sweat, and tears in exchange for an American dream he had promised his family. Hiding from el hielo, while his daughters studied the American dream in school, watched it on the TV, and sang to it on the radio. But while he worked and toiled, I had developed my own dream. A dream that went beyond the boundaries of his sueño americano. A dream that knew that if it was left in the borderlines of Los Ángeles and Califas it would suffocate under it’s own ambition.
This dream seemed so ingrained to me that I hadn’t realized I was leaving my father’s sueño behind. Un sueño he had worked and sacrificed everything to gift to me; and I had forgotten it even existed.
I could feel tears swell up behind my eyes, and took a bite from my hamburger to distract myself. My father laughed to lightened the mood.
“I just wanted you to graduate high school, because that’s all I knew. Then you went to UCLA and I wanted you to graduate college. Y ahora, Columbia University. I didn’t even know that existed.” He continued to laugh, “Pero tú sabes que yo te apoyo, lo que sea, yo te apoyo”
I kept eating, a knot in my throat stealing from me any heartfelt response I could come up with.
“Lo sé, papi” was all I could muster.
On the drive home I changed the subject and talked about all the food I would miss while in New York and everything I was excited about in the big apple. There was a lot more I wanted to say to him, something sentimental, but it’s never been in my nature.
The next morning I boarded a plane to NYC leaving behind everything I knew. But his words followed me and reminded me that my American Dream would be nothing without his sueño americano.
Cynthia Nayeli Carvajal is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico. She grew up in Boyle Heights, East Los Angeles from the age of 5 until she moved to New York City for her Masters program where she resided for two years. She is currently living in Tucson, AZ where she is pursuing her PhD and working with students on issues of undocumented student college access in the Arizona area.