What does it mean to be a foreign citizen in the United States? I asked myself this very question while previously browsing through an exhibit at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta. The exhibit, titled Young Americans by Sheila Bright consists of 28 prints of young adults between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five with the American flag. Each photograph is unique and consists of a single person striking a pose with the American flag. Included under each photo is a short passage of what the American culture and society has meant to the pictured individual. The exhibit is particularly interesting because it includes young people from diverse backgrounds and socio-economic groups.
As an immigrant from Iran myself, I believe Young Americans is the perfect platform for young foreigners to express what living in America has meant to them. In today’s contemporary world, there is nothing greater than the division between what constitutes opportunity. While some are born at the ceiling of opportunity, others must build their own ladder to the top. In so far as one passage captures a young Chinese American boy’s constant struggle to achieve his goals another remains oblivious to what really constitutes freedom and chance. The Chinese American’s passage is highlighted with words of persistence and determination and inevitably paints a vivid picture of a dream lost in America. He states that his life is a constant effort in that he receives no handouts, is engulfed with a sea of obstacles and people who lack his vision. On the other hand, the exhibit also portrays a young Caucasian girl’s passage, which emphasizes her notion of what it means to be an American, and what she believes constitutes liberty. It is clear to the observer that the young girl is proud to be an American and is determined to make us believe that we are all bound for greatness.
However, as a first generation immigrant myself, let me be the first to tell you that the two passages are no more alike than they are different. Although both passages share a similarity in that they each believe in the American dream, they differ greatly when it comes to how that dream is achieved. While the young Caucasian girl is content on believing that everyone has the same opportunities she did most newly naturalized Americans believe this to be far from the truth. Many of them envision a better standard of living for themselves, however much like the young Chinese American they are also aware of the trials they must face in order to get there. Many foreign born Americans are eager to work, receive an education and attain their goals; however, in many cases this is easier said than done.
In no moment in time has there been a greater surge of first generation Americans than now and yet for many the presence of an America for Non-Americans still remains. How foreign Americans are perceived and how they fit within the American culture says a lot about America’s future. If America continues to hire individuals based on the notion of false pretences then it will never reach its full potential. Many institutions and organizations have begun to appoint people today not on account of their experience but because of their socio-economic status. As a result, the opportunity to prove oneself within any industry has become unattainable. Moreover for many foreign born Americans their goals will thus never be reached and they will never have the opportunity to present their talents. Consequently, this will not only push people to gravitate towards their own culture but ideology as well. A new plethora of minds are emerging in America everyday and with them they bring a new generation of raw talent. Subsequently, the greater the number of foreign-born Americans within the work force the greater the number of dual perspectives offered. Indifference is nothing new in America however; it is also, what keeps the nation from reaching its full potential. If America continues to oppose the foreign-born American’s ingenious ability to offer a dual-perspective then it will never have another chance to prove itself and will remain at a standstill to change. America will inevitably fail to reap from the foreign-born American’s new ideas and opportunity to connect with the rest of society.