While judges debate the legality of the Trump travel ban, one Delaware high school student reflects on her family’s immigrant experience. Yara Awad is a first generation American, a Muslim, and a junior at Ursuline Academy with big plans to realize her own American Dream. From her father’s modest beginnings in the United States to Yara’s journey to the bright lights of the TEDx stage, Yara shares a wonderful story about ability, ambition and hope and reveals why the panel of 10 TEDx Youth Wilmington judges selected her as one of 18 speakers to deliver a TEDx talk at the inaugural youth event in Wilmington on April 2nd.
This is a picture of me at the Philadelphia international airport after the infamous Muslim ban was passed. I being Muslim, and simply just human was devastated when I head of this ban. It showed discrimination in our society and in our government, and I for one would not stand for it. So I stood there, with America in my hand and I voiced what I believed needed changing and that itself is a dream come true.
The man, my father, whose shoulders I am proudly raised up on was once this seventeen year old.
Now imagine being 17 years old in a foreign country where you barely speak that language. All you know about this country is from the limited television access you get in the Middle East in the 1980’s, which amounted to your favorite TV show Chip’s California Highway Patrol. Because this (picture of Chip’s California Highway Patrol) is what’s supposed to guide your transition from Amman, Jordan to Raleigh, North Carolina.
So once this boy realized that the United States wasn’t the land of high-speed chases and adventure, reality set in. He got the only job he could in his broken English, which was cleaning the floors at Subway. But from cleaning the floors he learned to make sandwiches, and from making sandwiches he learned to work the register, and from working the register he managed, and from managing he owned his own Subway. From owning his own Subway he ended up in 2017 with 13 IHOPs, 700 employees and the father of 3 children whom he sends to prestigious high schools and universities.
How does this happen? This is called the American Dream.
Now you are probably sitting here thinking this is an inspirational story about an immigrant, but how can this apply to you or me? I was born in the United states, I was raised here. I speak English, and I have never seen Chip’s California Highway Patrol.
Does the American Dream exist for a girl like me? Does it exist for each one of you?
James Truslow Adams in the 1930’s, a man that was born and raised in the United States, defined the American dream as, “Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.” So I did a quick search of what people think of the American Dream today. In a study conduct by the Harvard Institute of Politics it was found that almost 50% of millennial believe the American dream is dead for them. However, I find this furthest from the truth. As long as we have to ability to use of voice to change what we believe needs changing the American Dream is still alive.
I can easily tell you what the American dream is not. It is not one-size fits all in which each person has a uniform dream. It is not a checklist in which everyone aspires to have a big house, fancy cars and a lot of money. It is not know where your next step is, because life often gets in the way, we often don’t know where we are going next. But the fact of the American Dream is that progress is possible here and now.
The here and now of the American Dream. Why is the United States the place of progress and success? Well you hear it all the time “America is the land of the free and the home of the brave.” Then why is it that we are constantly questioning how free we are in this country? No matter what we can and cannot do, the power of free speech can be the most liberating tool we have as Americans.
Take the protest I attended, for example.
The day I stood at the Philadelphia International Airport, there was a family of Syrian refugees detained there. This family spent years in brutal conditions and months applying to find safe haven in the United States, only to be turned away when they got here. They had no voice, so I held America in my hands and I was their voice. I fought not only for what I believe their rights were, but for the American that I know and love and because of that change followed. But it can also look different.
Take women’s progress for example.
A century ago women didn’t have the right to vote, now women are holding office. Take the Black Lives Matter movement. Whether you agree with this movement or not, the fact that we can stand up and fight for what we believe needs changing is the ultimate sign of progress. But people will tell you that because we see divide in our country, that we are lacking progress and the American dream no longer exists.
People question the melting pot theory that the United States is a place where people mesh together into one culture. But I would argue that we are not a melting pot, we are a stew. Where there are many ingredients, but each one is just as important as the other. And each one has the ability to reach success.
So if each person is different and each person has the potential to live the American Dream then how do we measure success? We often make the mistake of looking at someone with a lot of money, a big house, and expensive cars and label them as successful, but we have no idea the journey that they traveled. If we do not know where they started, only where they are ending how can we label them as success.
I would argue that success looks more like someone with the power of ambition.
In the news there was a boy who was once homeless and became valedictorian. People will often look to someone who is valedictorian and already label them as successful. But this boy who was homeless traveled an unimaginable journey, that I would argue, is more successful than most billionaires.
But it can also look smaller. It can be the person in front of you at a super market or working at a fast food restaurant. You have no idea where they have been. They could have been homeless or battled an addiction and now they are providing for themselves and possibly a family. This is success. And this is the exact reason I do not say I live the American Dream just because my father was successful. You cannot be born into success, if success if the measure of your own progress.
So what is the point of me trying to prove to you that the American Dream still exists? It is because pessimism staggers progress. If we do not believe we have the ability to make change, nothing will ever change. So use your voice, change what you want to see change. The American Dream exists for each one of you, it will just look different.