Pinky Pie

Jazz, the American Dream & Me

Posted on: December 9, 2010

On the day that the Dream Act – a path to citizenship for children brought to this country illegally by their parents – did not get the vote it deserves in the U.S. Senate, I heard a story about one such promising young person.

Sam, a jazz musician who graduated with honors from a high school in Indiana, had all the makings of a great university student. Sam did everything right. He worked hard, played in his high school marching and jazz bands and has a great talent in jazz saxophone.

But as all his friends applied to colleges and everyone expected great things for him, Sam learned his immigration status made it all but impossible for him to go. The one college that accepted him could not offer him scholarships or grants.

Sam came to this country with his parents when he was just 5. He had no choice in the matter. He is being punished because his parents out-stayed their visas, making them undocumented in this country.

In an interview on the Public Radio Program Unfictional, Sam talked about his American dream – to become a jazz musician and eventually teach other young people jazz.

“I play jazz. How American is that?” he asked.

He can’t get a job other than one that pays under the table, again because of his status. He can’t get a driver’s license and he can’t pay taxes because he does not have a green card. None of this is his fault.

You can hear his story at: http://www.kcrw.com/etc/programs/uf/uf101130american_dreamer_sam

Long Haul Productions, which recorded his story, noted: “American schools teach students that with hard work, they can realize their dreams. But some kids do everything right, only to graduate from high school and find the American Dream isn’t for them.”

I’ve heard other stories over the last year or so about young people in similar situations. One was a young woman who cleans houses instead of going to medical school. Her dream is to be a doctor where one is very much-needed – within the Latino community in Los Angeles.

What greatness are we missing when we keep these young people from reaching their dreams? What hope for happiness do we destroy when a dream is shattered like those of Sam and the young woman I heard about months ago? These young people did not grow up in the countries where they were born; they considered themselves Americans and speak English.

What makes us think that those of us who arrived in this country a generation or two earlier are so much better than those who were brought here more recently? My own grandfather had to change his name to get out of Russia. Does that make me the granddaughter of an illegal?

The House of Representatives Wednesday passed the Dream Act, which would give a path to citizenship to young people who meet all of these criteria:

  • They were brought to the United States before they turned 16 and are younger than 35
  • Have lived here continuously for five years
  • Graduated from a U.S. high school or obtained a GED
  • Have good moral character with no criminal record
  • Attend college or enlist in the military

When the House passed the dream act, Pedro Ramirez, president of Fresno State University’s Associated Students, Inc., called it a great feat made possible by many different people.

“Although we celebrate tonight’s victory, tomorrow the Senate must also approve the bill if we are to achieve our goal,” he said. “With the passage of the Dream Act in the Senate, the Dreamers (undocumented students) will be able to contribute far more and to prove their merit in this great nation. We thank our nation’s leaders for their vision and courage.”

These young people want to pay taxes, want to work, want to learn and as Ramirez said, “to contribute far more and to prove their merit.”

Senators: have the guts and do the right thing.

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