Achieving the American Dream: Blinded By Our Own Prejudices

So the other day on an NPR report (I dont have a link, you will just have to take my word for it), a Latino immigrant man shared his own prejudices that have developed as he has achieved his American Dream. He spoke about how easily he began to forget the difficulties he encountered while making it in America as he nestled into his comfortable middle-class life.

From newspaper and pizza deliver-man to gardening and fast-food service, *he said his now comfortable middle-class lifestyle as a Network Engineer had made him blind to his own prejudices. He realized this when he went on a trip to DC and encountered an elderly blind African-American woman who sat under a monument with her hand out. He immediately thought she was begging for money and reached down into his pockets and emptied out all the change he had into her hands. Something many of us would consider an act of kindness rather than prejudice. However, the woman turned to him and said that she didnt need his money she only needed him to guide her to the nearest post-office. After guiding her to the post-office, he was grateful to this woman for helping him see his own prejudices that had long blinded him.

He went on to say that a major part of the American Dream he had forgotten about was to never become immune to the emotional pain of the prejudice one encounters as an immigrant striving to achieve the Dream. For example, the pain of having parents tell their children, “you never want to be a pizza-delivery man like him” in front of his face without knowing the circumstances that put him in that position (i.e. he was earning money to help pay for college and the family bills).

* Sorry, I forget his name and feel awkward using a pseudonym so please bear with the repetition.

He said that the lesson learned during that interaction under a DC monument was to always remember the pain of being discriminated against so you think twice before acting on your own biases. Just because you accomplished your goal of the American Dream doesnt given you the right to belittle others who are still striving for it.

Last week, I commented on the prejudices we have for each other within our own community. It manifests itself through immigrant Punjabi Sikhs who have attained wealth and now look-down on their working class brothers and sisters. There is also the reoccurring F.O.B. issue where newly arrived Punjabi Sikh immigrants are belittled by those of the 2nd generation or people who have been in the West for a while. I agree there are differences between groups that make it difficult to relate to each other, but that doesnt always have to become material for hating. I know we arent the only community who hates on its own, but I will just focus on us because we can more easily relate to it from experience (either as the perpetrator or victim). Sometimes, its overt, but other times its disguised as acts of kindness, such as for the aforementioned Latino man.

So, I ask our readers to share their experiences of when they have hated or been the victims of this prejudice. What did you do? What did you learn from it?


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7 Responses to “Achieving the American Dream: Blinded By Our Own Prejudices”

  1. Ashveer says:

    A key way in which the Punjabi Sikh community 'self-hates' in the context of the American Dream is the (mis)use of caste. Last names are labels for stereotypes in the most destructive ways. It makes one wonder how caste becomes even more powerful amongst those who have realized their dreams, and the ways in which perhaps the efforts of other successful Sikhs (NGOs, grassroots initiatives, websites) are criticized because of casteist stereotypes.

  2. Ashveer says:

    A key way in which the Punjabi Sikh community ‘self-hates’ in the context of the American Dream is the (mis)use of caste. Last names are labels for stereotypes in the most destructive ways. It makes one wonder how caste becomes even more powerful amongst those who have realized their dreams, and the ways in which perhaps the efforts of other successful Sikhs (NGOs, grassroots initiatives, websites) are criticized because of casteist stereotypes.

  3. Raja says:

    I think this is an interesting topic. Your right Phulkari, sometimes, I forget my own hardships and what I went through as an immigrant, from a family of immigrants.

    I am sharing this with everyone, but realize during this event it brought me great shame. I remember when I was in 2nd year University, I was with a group of friends in the cafteria. We were eating lunch, having a good time. A student came up to us and asked us if someone could tell him where a building was, the person happened to have a strong African accent, and was wearing some traditional african clothing. After instructing him, a *former* friend of mine starting to make fun of him, doing an impression of his accent etc… Don't know why I did, but I laughed along with the group. For the whole day, I didn't get over why I laughed. Why I decided to laugh when myself an immigrant, and whose family have the similar experiences was beyond me.

    I approached my friends the same day, and told him he was an idiot, and argued with him. He didn't get it, part of the reason why I am not friends with him today. However, about a week later, I saw the same African student, went up to him and apologized. He said he heard us, and felt horrible but was "used to it". He appreciated my honesty, and that I apologized.

    Today, that African student is a good friend, and a dean list honour student, who is mulling over his choices between law or buisness school. My former *friend*? I heard he just got arrested for a DUI. Not saying that his ignorance is connected to his choice to drink and drive, but its just interested to say the least…

    I have always been cognisent of the identity of an immigrant, but this experience made me realize that people still go through what we have gone through, or what our parents have gone through.

    Shortly after, I got involved with a program in Toronto that helps assimulates immigrants into society which led me to forging some of the best relationships I have today.

    Cheers.

  4. Raja says:

    I think this is an interesting topic. Your right Phulkari, sometimes, I forget my own hardships and what I went through as an immigrant, from a family of immigrants.

    I am sharing this with everyone, but realize during this event it brought me great shame. I remember when I was in 2nd year University, I was with a group of friends in the cafteria. We were eating lunch, having a good time. A student came up to us and asked us if someone could tell him where a building was, the person happened to have a strong African accent, and was wearing some traditional african clothing. After instructing him, a *former* friend of mine starting to make fun of him, doing an impression of his accent etc… Don’t know why I did, but I laughed along with the group. For the whole day, I didn’t get over why I laughed. Why I decided to laugh when myself an immigrant, and whose family have the similar experiences was beyond me.

    I approached my friends the same day, and told him he was an idiot, and argued with him. He didn’t get it, part of the reason why I am not friends with him today. However, about a week later, I saw the same African student, went up to him and apologized. He said he heard us, and felt horrible but was “used to it”. He appreciated my honesty, and that I apologized.

    Today, that African student is a good friend, and a dean list honour student, who is mulling over his choices between law or buisness school. My former *friend*? I heard he just got arrested for a DUI. Not saying that his ignorance is connected to his choice to drink and drive, but its just interested to say the least…

    I have always been cognisent of the identity of an immigrant, but this experience made me realize that people still go through what we have gone through, or what our parents have gone through.

    Shortly after, I got involved with a program in Toronto that helps assimulates immigrants into society which led me to forging some of the best relationships I have today.

    Cheers.

  5. Tajinder says:

    I was raised in America out side the Sikh community for the most part. From what I can remember I only met two other kids who were new immigrants from Punjab, this was in 7th 8th grade. Mostly what I can remember about them is how I wanted to not “hang out” with them because they were new. I did not hate them I just did not want to associate with them because other people made fun of them. I thought about this for years especially when I ended up being related to them later through a long distance relation ship looks like I had a self esteem issue back then.

    In college I met a lot of different international students, I was forced to work with them especially being in Engineering. I found they were better then the American friends I had. Most of the American born raised Sikhs I know are confused about one thing or another and have very immature attitudes towards life, these guys all seemed to be educated and focused and matured. I have changed my views of new immigrants over time, I have become more excepting but this all took experience of interacting with them and getting over my own ignorance and prejudices about them.

    The other day I went to have my taxes done, a very loud and rude Panjabi person came in to the tax office. After the clerk said sorry I can not help you, and I explained in Panjabi she can not help you the person leaves. Later the women asks me are your people different in the part of California you are from? I answered yeah we don’t have too many Red Neck and Hillbilly types of Punjabi’s. The reason I mentioned this is because there were other Panjabi people there Sikhs specifically who did show prejudice against this person, they just failed to realize Whites are not the only ones with ignorant and rude people with in their community, the issue was not he was a new immigrant the problem was he was the Red Neck version of one.

  6. Tajinder says:

    I was raised in America out side the Sikh community for the most part. From what I can remember I only met two other kids who were new immigrants from Punjab, this was in 7th 8th grade. Mostly what I can remember about them is how I wanted to not hang out with them because they were new. I did not hate them I just did not want to associate with them because other people made fun of them. I thought about this for years especially when I ended up being related to them later through a long distance relation ship looks like I had a self esteem issue back then.

    In college I met a lot of different international students, I was forced to work with them especially being in Engineering. I found they were better then the American friends I had. Most of the American born raised Sikhs I know are confused about one thing or another and have very immature attitudes towards life, these guys all seemed to be educated and focused and matured. I have changed my views of new immigrants over time, I have become more excepting but this all took experience of interacting with them and getting over my own ignorance and prejudices about them.

    The other day I went to have my taxes done, a very loud and rude Panjabi person came in to the tax office. After the clerk said sorry I can not help you, and I explained in Panjabi she can not help you the person leaves. Later the women asks me are your people different in the part of California you are from? I answered yeah we dont have too many Red Neck and Hillbilly types of Punjabis. The reason I mentioned this is because there were other Panjabi people there Sikhs specifically who did show prejudice against this person, they just failed to realize Whites are not the only ones with ignorant and rude people with in their community, the issue was not he was a new immigrant the problem was he was the Red Neck version of one.

  7. This is really a great piece of thought. It removes the differences between the nationals of America and the immigrants. This life is very much difficult for every kind of person. Now this thing should need to be clear by others that what is dream all about. So read this