Esther Shittu ’17
The American Dream. I have heard those three words so much in the few eighteen years that I have been alive. What is the American Dream? Who came up with the idea and the notion that there is such a thing as the American Dream? Is it just the notion that you have a nice car, a nice house, two kids, and a loving beautiful spouse? Honestly, I believe the American Dream is a hoax. Don’t get me wrong, I congratulate those with a beautiful loving spouse, two kids, a nice house, and a car. To have a dream that one can live for and work up to is a great asset to life. However, the American Dream does not just come from having a great spouse, two kids, and the house and car. There’s a hidden part. The one no one dares to speak of. Many immigrants came to America to live the American Dream. They brought their children, their whole family to become “Americans.” And although it may not be their original thought or intention to try to fit into this underlying notion of what it means to have that dream, they eventually do.
I came from Nigeria, which makes me an immigrant. I wanted to speak what was and still is considered “proper English.” In a sense, I wanted to get rid of the accent that, until the moment I said my first words in America, I did not know I had. So, I tried to speak the way I was taught by my teacher. As a result, I became really self-conscious. How could I not? I was being laughed at for saying words a certain way. This, in turn, made me ashamed to speak. There were countless times when I avoided saying anything with the “h” sound because I did not want to try to and explain that I am actually saying “happy” as opposed to “appy.” But as years went on, I realized I am not the only one with this issue. I am not the only one trying to live the “hidden” part of the American Dream. Immigrants who come to this country do not realize the dream comes with a factor that cannot be taken away. In order to truly have the American Dream, and have people acknowledge that you are in fact living the dream, you must be Americanized. And what do Americans know how to speak better than anyone else? English!
What amazes me even more is that a country that supposedly celebrates the differences and cultures of other countries, actually has ideals that force everyone to live or speak in a certain manner or way. We put each other down with phrases like “go back to your country” or “speak English.” Whenever I hear, “speak English,” I immediately get upset. I am not upset because English is not a beautiful language. It is. Rather, because many people in our society try to measure what is proper and perfect English. Many people do not realize there are foreign countries that have English as the first language. This includes Ghana, Nigeria, Malawi, Pakistan, Palau, and so many others. So, when I hear a friend who is not from this country speak about his or her wish to speak better English, or when someone asks me whether or not I knew English before coming to America, or even when I read in class about the many immigrants that are so desperate to learn English perfectly that they do not want other immigrants teaching it to them, it gives me pause.
Tell me if I am wrong, many Americans try to speak Spanish, but the accent is not always right. I know of a Caucasian male who speaks Yoruba, but his accent is not as perfect as native Yoruba speakers. Does that make him a lesser person? Will I tell him to go back to his country? You see, America is great. It is a beautiful country and a land of opportunities. But, I get tired of watching people trying to develop the American attitude. It is probably because I watch myself trying to become Americanized. I tried to “lose my accent.” I tried speaking the perfect English, so one day I will have the American dream. Is it so that one day I will be accepted? But, I realized I already speak English. Do I have an accent? Yes! But does that make me any less of a person or any less educated?
It reminds me of the novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. The big nurse in the story wanted the patients in the mental ward to do things her way. I do not live like that. I cannot live like that. If America is a country that accepts people of different culture, you can’t put pressure on them to be just like you.
My advice to those who are not Americans, do not try to imitate a language you already know how to speak. It is better to keep the accent. It brings you closer to the homeland you left than to lose it, and lose the connection between you and your heritage. This land has a reputation for accepting everyone, but it is wrong to accept people but tell them to leave behind what makes them unique. Let us all just be who we are, whether we are “Americans” or not. It is better to live life as yourself rather than trying to acquire a dream that God did not intend for you.