The American Dream as it was packaged and sold was one of prosperity, perseverance, the triumph of human endeavours, the Obama adage of “you can make it here in America if you're willing to try”. For too long, the ‘Indian Dream’ was the ‘American Dream’.
I addressed this concept in a talk last March how for the aspirational classes of the 1990s, the notion was that you do well in school, in order to pursue a STEM degree and then head on to a great grad school program in the U.S (everything else is secondary).
One would then be armed with intellectual arsenal to land a plump job in Silicon Valley or Wall Street, then get the H-1B rolling and then the green card was an eventuality, the pathway to citizenship follows. And last, but not least, your children born in the US (as second generation or colloquially called ABCDs—American-Born Confused Desi) never need to know what the ‘get out of jail’ card looked like: the one that was your student visa.
So much so, that one could facetiously say that the obsession with the ‘American Dream’ made education in India look like this: “A..B..C...H-1B….. A...B...C...H-1B”
Why You Don’t Need America Anymore
The American Dream of prosperity, economic success, tech entrepreneurship, Wall Street wizardry, academic excellence and individual brilliance has now been exported to other parts of the world. One doesn’t need to be stateside to achieve any of these.
A sense of location agnosticism is setting in. For example, our COVID-19 led quarantined life has made ‘Zoom’ the new Google, where we are overly reliant on it to get work done and connect.
Ironically, globalisation has brought about a sense of homogeneity in locations across most major cities. In Sydney, Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Tokyo, London, Washington DC and New York City, there is a sense of working life homogeneity. You will end up riding the subway to work in most instances, stand in a long line for lunch at a chain salad shop. You will find a decent café with your favourite brew.
There will always be a fun pub for trivia nights, you can find a decent apartment to rent, form a diverse friend circle, and even get a good 5G connection for Netflix and pushing that Amazon button. As far as gastronomic delights are concerned, you will surely find an eclectic mix of Chinese, Italian, Indian, Mexican, Thai, Sushi, Vietnamese, pizza places and a good burger joint in those cities. The things that will continue to be different will be the weather, taxes and perhaps alanguage impediment, if at all. But Ubers, Netflix, Amazon, Google Maps and grocery delivery apps can be language agnostic.
Exposed Dark Belly of the ‘Shining City’
America was once the shining city on the hill—as Ronald Reagan romantically crooned—but it lays ravaged today by the pandemic, with a third of cases and over 90,000 deaths. So dire the situation that America’s best-case scenario according to Dr. Anthony Fauci is 100,000 deaths. And this was stated nearly two months ago, when the country had lost just under 3000 lives. At this point, it’s morbid and disheartening to think that the death of at least 10-20 thousand more people in the US is merely fait-accompli.
COVID-19 pandemic has exploited the overlooked vulnerabilities in the system. Work from home they say—in a heartless economy. An economy where we talk more about the bottomline than the frontline. One where the rich ran to swanky vacation homes in the mountains; the middle class had a different uphill climb juggling screaming kids with scheduling work calls and scrambling to send off emails, and then there were the others that were ‘seen’ for the first time. But we gave them the tag of essential workers, to feel good about ourselves.
These are mostly people in low-paying jobs that require their physical presence and who cannot avail air-conditioned homes with internet connectivity to do their job. Their job requires frontline duty. Who? Hapless ambulance drivers, police force, grocery store clerks, warehouse workers, delivery drivers, and lest we forget the valiant healthcare workers, not just doctors, but paramedics, hospital staff and nursing aides.
As the Irish writer Fintan O’Toole quips “the world has loved, hated and even envied the United States, but now, for the first time, we pity it”. The American Dream is on hold, it may even cease to exist in this case, as the American nightmare plays out.
(Akshobh Giridharadas is based in Washington D.C. A journalist by profession, Akshobh Giridharadas was based out of Singapore as a reporter and producer with Channel News Asia, Singapore covering international business news. He tweets at @Akshobh. This is a personal blog and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)