Alex Yarde wonders if his generation will be the last to benefit from the American Dream
One of my fondest memories of childhood is going shopping for new Easter clothes with my older sister and my parents. Growing up in a working class, immigrant family from Barbados there were certain expectations about our general demeanor and appearance in public. We went to church on Christmas and Easter in new outfits. We wore nice clothes while traveling or going out to dinner. In some regard, I wish these formalities still existed but that’s another subject. My older sister and I enjoyed going shopping. I especially liked to hide in the clothing racks at the local Alexander’s on Fordham Road in the Bronx, and on one occasion I pushed the emergency button on the escalator. I am not really sure how my mother, who worked full time, kept her cool, but she did.
My parents worked hard, played by the rules and expected us to do the same. My mother was an Oxford trained Obstetrics Nurse in Barbados who came to the United States during a nursing shortage in the 1960s. This is the primary reason my sister and I are Americans. In America, she struggled with racism from patients in her care, and abuse from residents too green to know proper procedures or dosages. My dad was a Semi-Pro Cricket player in Barbados and worked as a Customs Official. In the United States, he was fortunate to be a federal employee, so he was paid a living wage and received a pension. Like many of my friends growing up, I lived in a dual income, union household. Not wealthy by any measure but we had everything we could have needed or wanted and extras along the way that made life good. My sister and I had new clothes for back to school. My family went out to eat or took in a movie every so often. We got to go on a family vacation every year. This was more than either of my parents had growing up on the Island. My mother didn’t have indoor plumbing as a child and told us about lizards and toads in the outhouse. My dad was raised by a hard working single mom in a small fishing community. As a boy, he fished and supplemented his merger income by diving for coins that wealthy cruise ship passengers threw overboard to watch the local kids dive.
For all intents and purposes, we were living the American Dream. My parents were working hard to better their lives and to insure that my sister and I had opportunities. My sister and I prospered from this. We both went to college, bought homes and have sent kids to private school. I know my parents would be proud of this. I do wonder, however, if the hope of advancement or even equity is the same for my children. The signs today aren’t very encouraging. The once powerful unions that were the bedrock and foundation on which the American middle class (and my family) was built upon have been weakened by union-busting efforts led by national employers and state politicians. Pensions, like the one my mother paid into and later depended on after my dad passed away and she became ill, are nonexistent. The chances that the next generation will be on better economic footing than the one before, for the first time in American History, is in jeopardy.
I hear a lot today about the promises we can’t keep as a Nation. The “greed” of unions, teachers, police, nurses and firefighters. The “entitlement” burden brought on by an aging population and skyrocketing healthcare costs. Things that our leaders say must be fixed or changed. I wonder where we are going to be as a nation when these things are “fixed and changed,” but I guess we are all going to find out. So far, the result is that unions are on their heels and politicians are in the pockets of the wealthy and connected. Leaders and employers seem to be looking to squeeze all they can from ever shrinking middle class. How is anyone going to live the American dream in this climate? I hope my generation is not the last to benefit from the American Dream. George Carlin once said “They call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it.” I hope that’s not the case. I am the American Dream. My story is a similar story of countless other first generation immigrants to this country. I hope this is the tale of many more to come.