Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Nigerians and the American Dream

Students in schools all over America are often asked to write about the American dream means to them. We are taught that traditionally, the description of the "American dream" was having a nice little house with a white-picket fence, a good job, a spouse, 2.5 kids and a dog. These days, people often describe it as having the freedom to be who you want to be and the opportunities to get there. People who came from poor backgrounds and go on to achieve greatness are said to have achieved the American dream. From grass to grace, as Tuface would say.

A big part of the American dream is having the freedom to live your life the way you want to. If you want to go to school: go. If you want to work all the time at the local grocery store and save all your money for a car: do it. If you like to drive through streets and pick up things that people put on their curb as trash: you're free to do so.  If you want to pack up and move to California after you graduate high school to try and become the next biggest thing to hit the screens: go right ahead and try. The American dream says that you can make it.

When it comes to higher education, the American dream tells you to study what you love; work hard and you can eventually get to where you want to be. Whether you want to be a world-renowned artist, a doctor, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, the sky is the limit. I totally agree. I believe that whatever someone wants to do, they can to it if they are determined.

Many Nigerians who are the first generation of their family in the United States do not understand the American dream. For them, the decision to come to America was to provide a better way of life. Their definition of a better life: more money. This is somewhat understandable. Feeling a sense of responsibility to the family left behind in Nigeria, these people want to enter a field that will pay them very well so that they can help. They often go to school for medicine, health sciences, engineering and law: fields that are known to be high-paying. They force try to get their children to study these fields as well. There's nothing wrong with advising people what career path to take. And there's nothing wrong with taking that advice if you have no ideas on what you want to do. But when a young person has a burning passion to do something, I think they should be given an opportunity to try. Assuming that someone is not going to be successful in life because they didn't study medicine is silly. It's unfortunate when parents force their children to study something they aren't interested in. It has bred and epidemic that I like to call the "Nigerian Nurse Syndrome".

So many young Nigerian and African females (at least that I've met) are all going to school to be nurses. It's hard to tell whether they decided to do this because they have a genuine interest in the field, they have come to believe that it's the only way to make it, or they've been forced into it. And so many African women find themselves in various levels of the nursing field because of it's flexibility and the income it generates. This is understandable. The problem is that dreams are often abandoned as people pursue money. The result is usually an unsatisfying life. I personally know of a woman who spent over 15 years pursuing a nursing degree while working as a nurse's aide. After many unsuccessful attempts, she is finally going back to school for what she wanted to do in the first place: fashion. How did she get in the nursing loop in the first place? Her husband convinced her to study nursing when they first got married because she could make good money, work flexible hours and not put the kids in daycare, blah, blah, blah.... She reluctanly agreed. Who knows where she would be now if she would have stuck to her original plan.....

All I'm saying is that everything happens for a reason. It's not an accident that people have certain skills, talents, and abilities; they are God-given. These natural talents are good indicators of what a person would excel in, if proper care is given to training and development. I think that Nigerians, especially older ones, should embrace this portion of the American dream and be more optomistic of what their children can accomplish if given a chance.

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