14 Aug Sueño Americano: Migrant Music Monday
I lived in San Diego for 11 years and while there I worked at a shelter for unaccompanied minors who were detained crossing the border without documents. I worked in the classroom teaching them English, history, math, and about American culture. The shelter received minors from all over the world, but the majority were from Central America. The young men and women I worked with risked their lives in order to reach the U.S. by crossing countries and oceans on unseaworthy vessels, ridding on top of freight trains, being chased by cartels and gangs, and braving the elements. They risked all of this because their situations in their home countries were so horrible, and because they had heard of the American Dream. When I asked them how they had found out about the American Dream, some said it was from relatives who were in the United States. However, many said that they had first heard of the American Dream from songs, and one song that was repeatedly brought up by the minors from Central America was “Sueño Americano” (American Dream) by Polache, an artist from Honduras.
After a quick Google search I listened to the song, and it was love at first sound. It had such a happy feel and it did a beautiful job at humanizing the immigrant experience. In the music video one sees Polache singing in various parts of Los Angeles, California, next to working men and women. Throughout it the word “humano” (human) is spelled out with different materials like the cloth scraps of a man’s sewing machine and rose petals. “I am a human being looking for the American Dream” the song’s lyrics repeat in English and Spanish. It reminds us that we are all just human trying to look for a better life, which is something that is often lost in the current political climate. The scientific fields of genetics, biology, and anthropology prove that all humans are 99.9% genetically identical, yet our societies are constantly making us buy into the idea that we are different. This is simply just not true and the song is a beautiful reminder.
The song “Sueño Americano” is also beautiful because it puts the immigrant experience back into the idea of the American Dream. The lyrics say that there are people coming to the U.S. from every nation. Current anti-immigrant rhetoric seeks to erase the immigrant from the American experience. An example of how insidious this type of ideology can be is that if one does a Google search for the definition of American Dream, the top result is the following: “the ideal that every US citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success”. Notice how the idea is restricted to citizens and immigrants are not mentioned. James Truslow Adams first coined the term “American Dream” during the great depression, but the inspiration of the American Dream is much older and it centered upon the hopes and aspirations of immigrants.
Last but not least, the song is still beautiful to me because it reminds me of the brave young men and women at the shelter. They all took a piece of my heart, and although I was their teacher, I learned a lot from them. They had been through so much and were still happy. They had journeyed from countries as far as Somalia, Eretria, India, China, El Salvador, Honduras, and many others, yet they aspired and were ready to achieve more. Although different, in many ways their immigrant experiences crossed paths with my family’s experience and my own. It reminds me that in this world we humans are all connected and intimately intertwined. You are a reflection of me, and I am a reflection of you…