Changing Cities, Changing Countries, and Changing Ourselves

Saben Brooks's picture

Imagine uprooting yourself from everything that is important to you. Taking yourself thousands of miles away from home and dropping yourself in a place that you feel is better for your future than where you were before. It doesn’t sound so daunting with all the technology today, but imagine being across oceans from those who are most important to you. 

That is the reality of the American Dream, and it is a topic that gets glorified across the world. 

Changing Cities, Changing Countries, and Changing Ourselves

The American Dream consists of three main ideas: the anticipation of landing and thriving in a new place, the culture shock that comes with being in a new place, and the assimilation into the culture once you have a grasp of how things are supposed to work in this new country. 

My family is broad enough to consist of two very different experiences in pursuit of the American Dream. 

My uncle Jesse went to Kenya while he was still teaching, and met a woman named Esther who would ultimately become his wife. Together, they departed on a journey to get her here that would take many years and a lot of hoops based on cultural discrimination. My aunt was able to build anticipation because it took her so many tries to get her visa to be able to come over to the United States. First, she had her student visa declined because she was a woman. Then the people at the Kenyan embassy nitpicked her application three more times. They sent her back for some minute issue, only to decline her application anyway. It took the act of my uncle going to the Kenyan embassy for them to finally approve her visa to the United States. 

Once she got here, her culture shock was exacerbated through the racism and oppression that exist in America. She felt freer in America, because women have many more rights than in Kenya. However, being from Kenya, she experienced racial discrimination in her pursuit of becoming a nurse. When she had started her new career, she had to deal with people telling her to “go back where she came from,” and being told not to touch them simply because she was black. 

Once Esther had acclimated to America, she distanced herself from her home culture. There are many reasons for this, but the biggest factor is freedom. Now that she was free, she wanted to remove herself from all the oppression that happened every day in Kenya. She was denied her student visa because Kenyans don’t believe that women can actually be educated. In order to make the marriage legal both in Kenya and in the United States, my uncle had to buy livestock to give to Esther’s father to ensure that no issues would arise during the process of getting her visa. Imagine feeling all this weight from society where your value is no more than someone else’s cow or goat. 

The part of her culture our family encouraged her to keep was her bilingualism. Once their son Jacob was born, everyone in our family thought it would be super cool if he was bilingual in English and Swahili. Esther, however, was having none of this. Was Swahili too much a reminder of all the pain she endured? Did she simply see no value in teaching Jacob Swahili? No one knows the answer. 

But although she came from a bleak upbringing and had to go through a long and arduous journey just to get here, she now finds herself at home in Colorado with a loving son and husband who care for her. 

My uncle Prem has had a much different journey in many ways. The start of his journey into America was paying a man to drive him across the border in the bed of his truck. This meant that Prem was very motivated to follow his dreams once he got here. He knew what the struggle looked like by the time he arrived, so he knew he would have to work hard in order to achieve what he desired. 

This goes to show that anticipation for what America can provide each person can come about in different ways. Prem had to stay low and clear of anyone’s radar, even if he was excited about what was to come. 

However, this meant that he did not assimilate into American culture like Esther had. He lived in a place that served as home. He was able to speak his native Punjab, and he was able to go to a Sikh temple all while he was driving taxis in New York City. Prem's assimilation came later when my aunt Mary wanted to move back to Colorado. Prem had to move away from all of the things he was comfortable with. 

There was no more being able to be around people like him, and that is when the culture shock really hit, especially after he got his first job in Colorado. 

In India, the firstborn son is responsible for his family and makes sure that they are well taken care of. Obviously, that is not the case in America. This became a dilemma very fast, as even though my aunt was working, Prem still felt that responsibility to send some money to his family for their well-being. The reason that is a problem is because of the prices of homes in Colorado. My aunt knew the need to be able to keep paying for their house, so she had to try and show Prem the practicality of having to keep money presently in front of you, because it has practical use for the things you need, even if your family does need money. 

It was a very steep lesson to learn, and one that is easier to learn when living on your own, when responsibilities and bills come about, seemingly out of the blue in comparison to living as an individual.  

Prem’s assimilation into American culture became very hard as Prem’s adult children began their journeys to the United States. Most Americans have a different parenting style than is traditional in India, so there were many cultural obstacles that were rather difficult. The first and most prevalent, as it divided the family, was about relationships. It began with Prem cheating on my aunt. There is nothing cultural about that, but my aunt suspects that the sexualization of American women in the media may have led him to skewed views. This is also important because Prem’s daughter, Baljinder, was never allowed to have a relationship with any man, due to the fact that women in India are traditionally only supposed to cook and keep the house in order. Ultimately, Prem had become so hypocritical in his words and his actions that Baljinder ran away from Prem and their family in Colorado in order to no longer feel oppressed. 

As can be seen, Prem’s journey consists of a lot more of both the positive and the negative in terms of American life. 

The American dream and each individual’s journey can be widely different based on a variety of personal and cultural factors and beliefs. This is one of the things that attract people to our country. The United States prides itself on its diversity and openness to all backgrounds and beliefs, and getting people to come here is a key cog in the machine, regardless of political opinions. 

Hopefully the United States can get to a place where fewer immigrants fall through the cracks in the system. The American government is generally a good system, but if someone cannot be self sufficient, they may find themselves homeless or struggling to survive far sooner than they might expect. 


Saben Brooks is completing his 5th semester at Coe College in Cedar Rapids. He is a non-traditional student originating from Denver, CO aspiring to be a sports broadcaster in his future. He values his family and his Colorado sports teams in his free time, but when he is hard at work at Coe, he appreciates the small campus feel and the easy access to his professors. He hopes you will be hearing his voice on a TV screen near you soon!