Every day on my way to school, I pass a colorful convenience store
A woman with kind eyes started working there
Sometimes, she takes a break, makes a phone call from the back door
Hailed from a foreign land and thus speaking a foreign tongue
Her eyes radiate with optimism, a vivid color, bright against her dark hair.
One day she tells me in a fragile string of English words
That she has come to America for opportunity
She left behind a house, a family, and childhood memories
But difficult as it may be, she is a stubborn little battery
When America drains her power, she recharges with new energy.
This dark haired woman with the hope-tinged eyes reminds me of my grandfather
Or at least, a version of my grandpa, alive in the stories of the past
When hailed from a foreign land across the world,
He arrived to this land, owning nothing but the scanty cash he had amassed
And in America found independence, he says, and worked for the kind that would last.
My grandpa put his dreams in his jewelry box,
And on the day he left his home for the Yankee promised land,
He opened that box, released those fragile dreams, pinned them to his blue working sleeve.
He knew as well as any other man he had to expose those dreams, a gamble at hand,
And work to ensure they wouldn’t fall and disappear, but rather, live on for years and years.
And so my grandpa made it, and thus today I do not have to do the same
He made it so that I too, his legacy, would have American independence
The freedom of drawing my own path, of not being slave to the jewelry box.
And that is why my box is stored safely away, on an upper right-hand corner closet shelf.
Instead, I get to test the opportunity my grandpa worked for, I get to savor his American Dream
I get to go to school without a struggle, follow any career I like,
(Just as long as it leads to one of the top twenty salaries in the nation, from these I can pick)
And I get to keep my grandpa’s words close to heart: what will take you places is your work
And I am the tolling bell that makes his words ring true every day
Because here I stand, working at my own scale, working to reach the places I can reach
Working to get the best grades, test scores and to write the best essays,
And if the admissions officer is having a good day when he reads my application, (amongst the billions of others like it)
And if I can get my test score to the right number, (an easy matter, all I need is a private tutor),
And if the strange, crippling enemy in my mind is contained, (another easy fix, all I need are some silly prescribed pills)
I will attend the college I was free to choose, and realize my grandpa was right.
And then, only after I have honored the opportunity my grandfather left for me,
Only after I can say I have not wasted it, having repeated the steps above enough times,
I’ll turn to my closet door, stand on my tip toes, reach for the back shelf
On the upper right-hand corner, and lower a dusty box of valuables.
This box was not forgotten; she was always treasured, waiting for the right day
The day when I’ll finally peer into her contents and see the raspberry dreams she houses,
Home to not the places I can reach, but the ones I wish to reach,
The un-American dreams that did not make me their slave, and I’ll realize my grandpa was right.
A spurt of foreign words brings me back to the present, to the woman with the kind eyes
Asking if I want my receipt for the bag of chips I bought for 1 dollar and 99 cents.
A sobering moment, why this woman is not like my grandfather, I suddenly realize.
She is not the same color he was, and only fools say this won’t matter,
She is learning the language my grandpa already knew when he got here,
And her children will compete, nonetheless, with people like me,
The lucky ones that get to live, rather than pursue, the American Dream.
Another sobering moment, the opportunity she searches for, does it even exist?
But who am I to blame the woman from the colorful convenience store,
Who am I to judge the hopeful color of her eyes, bright against her dark hair
Who am I to smirk at her renewing battery energy, call it a futile effort,
When all she is trying to do is have is what I have?
And like my grandpa she probably had to expose her dreams, pin them to her sleeve,
A risky place for dream keeping, outside the jewelry box’s shelter.
Is this your dream? I ask her, Are you following your dreams? I urge
I wait for her answer, for the validation of her struggle
For the validation of my grandfather’s struggle, now at the tip of this woman’s tongue
She looks at me; her eyes undergo a slow metamorphosis of hope to amusement
She lets out a laughter, from deep within her belly, and the awaited validation never comes.
My dreams? she laughs, an incredulous sound. My dreams are back home, she says,
I keep those safe, treasured with my valuables, that lives in a plastic drawer under my bed.
And one day I’ll return, she assures me, someday I’ll open that box, and let them free
But I have other matters to attend to now, she says, I’m busy with this American Dream.