I just returned from a trip to celebrate my grandson’s first birthday. I live in a small Midwestern town, so like John Candy and Steve Martin, my travel plans often include planes, trains and automobiles.
This trip required that I take the train to Union Station in Chicago and then a taxi to O’Hare field, fly to my destination and reverse the process on the way home.
I usually try to draw Chicago taxi drivers into conversations because they are often immigrants and I want to hear their stories. But more so, in spite of their difficulty with the English language they usually “speak American” very well. What I mean is they tell the quintessential American story very well.
Yesterday, I rode with a Romanian born cab driver. He spoke American beautifully. Here’s his story: He’s in that vehicle about 100 hours a week in order to support a family and pay its $900 weekly lease cost. He has three daughters. The oldest is in pre-med at DePaul on an academic scholarship. This daughter has a part-time job and earns enough to pay for her odds and ends. His wife works a part-time job and contributes to the family’s financial needs.
This driver worked in construction until the recession but finds himself in a job he never thought he’d do until the need arose. But this is not the end for him. He hopes to someday buy his own medallion and vehicle.
He is buying his own house and has built an apartment into it for rent. The rent defrays the cost of the mortgage. He plans to buy another lot and build an apartment building on it for his retirement.
He came to America for better opportunities and is realizing his dream here. But the key is that he knows the harder he works, the faster the dream comes true.
This is where the American dream is still alive. I’ve met dozens of people like this man. Although they come from different countries, their stories are all the same. They share common themes: hard work, saving and building for their futures, love of their families, and gratitude for the opportunities they find here. But most importantly, they feel no shame in doing whatever job is available to them.
They are hungry. Hungry for the benefits that come from their own efforts.
As many of these stories as I’ve heard, I never have I found one who complained that the government isn’t helping. So what’s the difference between the immigrant who makes his own way and the native-born who would crumble in the presence of the obstacles foreigners face when they arrive here?
I’ve argued too many times about the disappearance of the American dream to change my story now. But for sure, it is still alive and well for those who arrive here and are willing to do take the actions to achieve it.
As I was reminded so many times yesterday, this is truly a country of immigrants. It seems appropriate to me that the American dream is still alive at the entry point for the person who wants what it has to offer and is willing to work to achieve it.
Except for the fortunate few, most of our family stories in America started the same way. This Romanian cab driver’s story is one we can all celebrate.
Robert De Filippis