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  • I am currently temporarily living in a south Brooklyn neighborhood. Its mostly Americans of Italian descent. Or at least, it used to be. Now its a healthy mix of Asian, Russian and Puerto Rican families.

    This neighborhood is a bit strange in that if feels like suburban America more than a city, but its also quiet and certainly unpopular with the hipster crowd. Most have never even heard of it and they live in Brooklyn too. However, what is also unusual is the rampant display of patriotism. American flags are hung all year, and on the 4th of July they seem to triple and flutter as a raid of illegal but gorgeous fireworks pop in the streets. There are also lots of cars with stickers such as "Real Men Make Twins" and the one featured here, "Welcome to America, Now Speak English." I wonder if his family speaks Cherokee? SIGH...

    As an immigrant, I always felt strange about being so visually patriotic. Maybe because I was not born here, maybe because half of me still belongs to Russia and maybe because I feel that I would be disingenuous to display the flag, unless I was dressing up or in costume. Ironically, I feel as an outsider who has taken advantage of American opportunities in the best way possible, I appreciate this country even more. And clearly, I speak English.

    Really fucking well.

    What prompted me to write this week's story isn't so much the sticker itself, but what it represents. I hear all the time that the American dream is dead and that its difficult to make it in America now. And in some ways, it may be true. I am the first to openly question and criticize policies that are unfair to gays or women, outdated and hurt the middle class because I have the freedom to do so. Also, because I believe that healthy countries evolve and listen to their citizens, from bottom up, not the other way around. Most importantly, I do not believe the American dream is dead because I am the living proof.

    I didn't speak English until I was eleven. I learned it in school and through interaction with other kids. I went to public schools like all of my American friends. I didn't always get straight A's so scholarships were never in my future, and I grew up in central and south Brooklyn, close to where I am now. My parents were engineers and math teachers and held esteemed degrees from great Moscow universities. But here no one gives a shit where you went to school abroad, unless it was Oxford or something. Just like so many immigrants before them, they took 10 steps backwards before taking 100 forward and drove cabs and cleaned houses. You see, the American dream is alive and well but if you wanna dig it out, you have to get your hands dirty.

    And so, we climbed and climbed and climbed. My mother went back to school to get her teaching certificate and now teachers math to American kids, she also got her master's degree as teachers are better off with them. My dad passed a bunch of tests and got a job at a telephone company. We went from living in a small 1 bedroom where I slept in the living room, to a big 2 bedroom that faced a brick wall, to eventually buying our own house. My dad went from owning a rickety used station wagon to leasing a brand new car.

    If you read my old stories you might understand now where my ferocity and drive comes from. Maybe now you understand why my job and my education weren't good enough and why I dropped everything to go back to school for my master's degree only to incur insane debt that will take me 30 years to pay off. But it helped me to now work at an amazing company doing my dream job. I too went from living in in rickety old walkups with mice and roaches to finally being able to rent a brand new apartment where I can watch the sun set on NYC every night from my window and still strive to go farther every morning.

    Many immigrant kids know why our parents are so hard on us, where nothing we do is good enough. We are driven to go farther and farther and work our asses off because they know successes is possible in America. This is why they brought us here, but they also know how hard it is to get there. I have watched with sadness as some of my immigrant peers got spoiled, lazy and gave up. Until I came to America, I did not know that dropping out of school was even possible and that not going to college was an option. I never heard of it. But here, and that is the duality of America, its possible because you will still be OK. But for me, OK is not good enough.

    I am hard on those that settle for mediocrity and blame others for their failures because my parents were hard on me. I realize that getting out of a slump and climbing up difficult, I know that for a fact. But this is America, dammit! You don't have to speak English to get started, thats the beauty of it. I am 11 years behind Americans when it comes to speaking the language, and my parents were 35 years behind. So what? They always remind me that without America none of this would be possible and that elsewhere, our choices would be limited. So no, you will never find us hanging American flags from our windows or wearing flag pins. After 20 years here, we are still outsiders a bit. However, our patriotism in engrained in our experience.

    I wonder if those living in this neighborhood with their flags and stickers secretly resent us. We went to the same schools as their kids did. You gotta remember, that if that immigrant kid becomes the CEO of a company your kids end up working for, you have no one to blame but yourself. Because this is America, dammit!

    Week 19 of 52 - Story a Week in 2014
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