At lunch with friends, someone commented that the situation is bleak in the United States. Having just arrived from a three-month vacation there, I pondered on that remark with more than a touch of sadness.
I lived there many long and happy years. It was, for us, the land of opportunity, a welcoming, safe haven, abundant with promise.
I came home to the Philippines many years later, for balik-buhay, which, I believe, every right-thinking Pinoy my age who lives anywhere else in the world should seriously consider doing.
America is still my home away from home. I have children and grandchildren there. They are happy. But life in America has taken a turn, and not for the better. It has changed.
People, especially in the service industry today, show little respect and zero patience. Tempers are short, and attitudes, testy. Waiters, flight attendants and sales clerks seem to have forgotten how to smile.
It was not like this back in the day. Could it be that these people are just tired? Is it perhaps because most of them are holding down two or three jobs just to make ends meet? How cheerful can you be when your back aches and your feet are burning?
The polls tell a story that is far from pretty. Recent research reveals that one out of five Americans is either jobless or underemployed. One out of four can’t brag about savings.
Seventy-one percent of Americans are pessimistic. They declare without hesitation that the economy is in the worst shape it has ever been. The mood is dark and the outlook gloomy. It is no wonder that the average American is losing sleep.
Reports show that one-fourth of all homeowners nationwide is “under water,” meaning their mortgages are larger than the market value of their homes.
On the bright side, friends in Atlanta say that the real estate market is starting to show signs of life. The same can’t be said of Nevada. There are many unfinished projects; high-risers and condominium complexes left to gather dust and tumbleweeds; scaffoldings still in place.
Some blame their plight on the influx of people from California and Hawaii, who moved to Las Vegas after making a killing on the sale of their own homes. Accustomed to inflated prices, they devoured the rich inventory of brand new homes on the outskirts of Sin City. The buying frenzy led to a construction boom.
People went wild. It almost seemed like they were buying real estate with casino chips. They bought beyond what they could afford. And when things went bust, thousands went under. Today their front yards have signs saying “Owned by Bank,” or “In foreclosure.”
The dismal state of the economy is reflected today in their demeanor. Worried and disappointed, they are afraid to lose it all. They can’t stay, but to move elsewhere is worse. Trapped, they want to fix blame. Government is a convenient target. The truth is that many Americans are living their worst nightmare.
What happened to the American Dream?
The basic element that forged it generations ago was opportunity. It meant that one’s children could grow up in freedom and get a good education, without barriers of ethnicity, religion or position. Where is that now?
The dream enticed millions of people from all over the world to come to America. It was more than just a promise of material wealth. There was a tacit assurance that everyone could be free to grow to his/her full potential.
Materialism and greed
The meaning of the American dream has changed drastically with the ebb and flow of history. Crass materialism and greed have changed its face.
I remember a scene from “Miss Saigon,” when the sleazy Engineer does a song and dance on top of a flashy automobile. These lines describe how far removed today’s Broadway concept is from the American dream that was born in the far frontiers.
“Spend and have money to spare,
The American dream;
Live like you haven’t a care,
The American dream;
What other place can compare?
The American dream;
Come and get more than your share!
The American dream!”
The US presidential election is scheduled on Nov. 6 this year. Will the American Dream play an important role?
Speculations ran high early in the year that the incumbent President Barack Obama would be reelected. Of course, the Republicans behind Mitt Romney promise to do everything to thwart that plan. The latest media report declares the race a dead heat.
In 2006, when Obama was still a US senator, he wrote his second book “The Audacity of Hope—Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream,” which became a bestseller. This made him known across the country. Some say the book won him the presidency. I wonder if that same audacity and if reviving that dream will work in his favor this time around. Can he make the American people believe once again that “yes, they can?”
Here at home, midterm elections will be held May 13, 2013. As early as now, politicians are flexing their muscles. Twelve of the 24 senatorial seats and all 286 congressional seats are up for grabs. Is there anyone new and inspiring in the horizon? Or will it be the same old, same old?
I remember in 2010 we heard, “Puede na muling mangarap.” This fervent declaration resonated with the hopes of Filipinos here and abroad. Has it been realized? Are we at least closer?
What is the Filipino dream? Do you know what it is? Does anyone?