Trading in the “American Dream”
Edwards' parents moved to America for a better life, so why did he relocate to Guatemala?
This piece originally appeared in Issue #3. Subscribe to get our monthly newsletter!
- Amina and Lincoln
The overarching public narrative about immigrant parents is that they immigrated to America to give their children a better life — often in pursuit of the illustrious “American dream.” However, a rising class of children of immigrants are coming of age and witnessing all the ways their communities as a whole are being targeted by xenophobic rhetoric and policies. There are over 20 million adult U.S.born children of immigrants and this group lays in the direct nexus between two countries, the United States, and their ancestral home. With the 2016 election in the rear view mirror, second-generation Americans, like Edward Rodas, are challenging the impenetrable “American Dream” by relocating to their ancestral homes and exploring a new sense of self.
Edward Rodas is a 26 year old second-generation American — the son of Guatemalan immigrants. Born in California and raised in Texas, when people would ask him the often loaded question about where he’s “from” — Rodas would respond with “I was born in California, but my parents are from Guatemala,” as to say “I’m brown, but I’m American just like you.”
Growing up, Rodas tells me that his parents would describe Guatemala as beautiful and natural, with caveats about the country’s crime problems. He remembers his parents telling him that they moved to America to give their family a better life and a safer environment. “It made me think America was this miracle country.”
In the midst of college, Edward began to feel stagnant. “I was living in California, and I was a student-athlete working three jobs. I felt like I was just another piece on the conveyor belt.” Rodas went on to reveal that he became numb by American’s powerful “work harder” culture that is constantly making you feel that your work output is tied to your value. At the height of the 2016 election, he grew frustrated by the hateful rhetoric espoused by politicians who were seeking the highest office in the land, but not acting as if they would be working for all Americans.
Rodas revealed that the growing turmoil in the United States confirmed that it was time to leave. “I felt like I was in some crazy movie, a dark and twisted fiction thriller. I needed to get out of the bubble and get some clear perspective on the events happening around me.”
In February of 2017, Edward acted on his desire for a closer relationship with his roots and relocated full-time to Guatemala. He packed everything he could into his 1994 Honda Civic, drove the 23 hours from California to Texas, and then departed for the airport with a one-way ticket to Guatemala. “I would have done it as soon as we decided it was okay to have TV personalities as our President but my lease didn’t end until February!”
The relocation came with a new normal, something that Edward is grateful for after feeling burnt out in the States. “You see people spending more time with their families. I don’t see as many people wearing a watch. Parents have time to eat at the table with their families and spend some quality time with them.” As he was settling into his new home, the relocation made him think deeper about his identity and who he really was, since he would notice people staring at him. “When I make new friends they always say ‘you can just tell you’re not from around here,” and I leave the house in plain t-shirts, shorts, and tennis shoes. It’s not like I’m out here dressing like a gringo. I was blending in, but at the same time, I wasn’t.” Eventually, he settled into his community and now he feels most centered and alive when he’s exploring all the mountains, lakes, rivers, ruins, and nature that his beautiful Guatemala has to offer.
When asked how long he’s planning to make Guatemala home, Rodas said that the initial plan was to only live in the country for a year or so, but that timeline has already doubled. “If I had to come back to the States for a little to generate more revenue..so be it. I love the States, but I think from now on I’m going to lean more towards building my future here.”
Whatever your perception of the “American Dream” may be, it’s hard to argue that the rise in openly anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies hasn’t tarnished it. It’s no wonder why Edward, and other children of immigrants like him, find their ancestral homes to be more welcoming. The experiences of first-generation Americans vary; but the majority of these stories are framed around sacrifices that were made to obtain the “American Dream.” This leaves their children, like Edward, negotiating what it means to acknowledge this sacrifice while also seeking a deeper connection to their ancestral roots.