Waking up from the American Dream

Alien on Campus

I remember feeling devastated and disappointed the day Donald Trump won the presidential election in 2016. I worried how his presidency would affect my life and the world around me.

In his campaign speech, Trump degraded Mexican immigrants, calling many of them “rapists.” Throughout his campaign, he continued to disparage immigrants at large in speeches that the media called “racially loaded” or “racially sensitive” but are really just flat-out racist.

While he was out decrying Mexicans publicly, I was in the middle of my college application process.

It had been my dream to study in the United States ever since I was in elementary school — not only because many U.S. universities are globally ranked, but also because of the positive view I had of the country.

Growing up, it was evident how much everyone around me admired the United States. In Mexico, the United States was said to represent opportunity, equality and freedom. It was these ideals that made up my American dream — learning and working with people from all over the world.

But as Trump’s hate speech during his campaign continued to knock down the American ideals I admired, applying to colleges in the United States started to feel hypocritical and wrong. On the one hand, I didn’t want to live in a place where immigrants were so blatantly discriminated. On the other, I had dreamt of studying in the United States my whole life, and I wasn’t about to give up on my dream so easily.

And then Trump actually won.

It was devastating then, and it continues to disappoint me every day. The fact that Trump was able to become president of the United States shows how racism, sexism and hatred are still so prevalent among Americans.

When Trump won, my mom urged me to apply to Mexican colleges. We didn’t know how common hate crimes would become in the United States or how dangerous it would be for me to live there. We didn’t even know if I would be legally admitted into the United States, because Trump signed an executive order that temporarily banned people from several Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, and we thought he might do the same to other groups of immigrants.

I hated how unfair it was that because power had been given to the wrong person, my dream and the future I had worked hard to achieve was now crumbling at the edges. But these were just my selfish worries — in reality, the consequences of Trump’s presidency were more pervasive and affected other people much more deeply.

I was able to become a student at UC Berkeley after all. But Trump’s presidency has greatly changed the way I view the United States. It has led many Mexicans like myself to re-evaluate our thoughts on our northern neighbor.

I’ve noticed a drastic shift in the way that people in Mexico talk about the United States. Now, the conversation reflects a growing sense of independence and national pride. Many people I know have since said that they would never want to live in the United States. Before Trump, this sentiment was pretty uncommon.

Mexicans are learning to see the flaws in the United States more clearly. We’re letting go of our idealization of the so-called “American dream.” We’re starting to recognize the value in our own country.

Although it saddens me to see hatred growing between these two countries, another part of me is also glad that Mexicans are starting to believe in their country a little bit more. As a common joke goes, “At least we don’t have the worst president anymore.”

In spite of everything, studying at UC Berkeley is fulfilling my long-desired experience of being in a diverse and innovative environment, and I’m incredibly grateful that I have the opportunity to do so.

I hope that by being here, I can understand the world a little better and bridge the gap between Mexican and American viewpoints. I’m beginning to see all the pieces that make up American society — I’m listening to the stories of different minority groups and talking about the ideals we wish were more prevalent.

People like Trump shouldn’t be in power, and yet they are. This triggers hatred not only in Americans towards immigrants, but in immigrants towards Americans. The solution is not to dismiss either party, but to find ways to understand each other. I hope that people realize this in spite of Trump’s presidency.

Alejandra Márquez writes the Wednesday blog on her experience as an international student. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ale_marquez20.