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  • Writer's pictureVivian Li

Work Hard, Have Faith and Dream

(TW: SA Paragraphs 9-11)

If you had a beautiful home, a white picket fence, a family with a son and a daughter and a good-paying job, you were living “the American dream.” Or so they said back in the 1930s. The ideology was coined from the best-selling book at the time Epic of America which was written by James Truslow Adams. The term was used to imply success, economic stability and comfortable life; it was also used to imply status, recognition and “face.”

From a statistical or monetary standpoint, you were considered living the “American Dream,” by how much money you made in comparison to your parents. In today’s world, the amount of money one earns is not indicative of how one lives, who they are, or their capabilities. But according to the Stanford Center on Poverty and Inequality (SCPI), it is believed by many that the idea of the American dream is fading away.

Or is it?

“I was studying my MBA in Atlanta,” Bella Osor, the owner and founder of Purity Nails 21 said. “And because I wanted to learn a skill that I can capitalize on, I chose to work at a nail salon, about six years ago.” After graduating with her MBA, Osor started hopping from nail salon to nail salon trying to learn as much as she could about the business, the trade and the craft. She found out that “more than 161,000 rabbits are used and killed in cosmetic testing every year.” That was when she decided to create a vegan cruelty-free nail salon experience for her customers when she wrote the business plan to open Purity Nails 21, six months ago.

Osor also reiterated several times that “moving to America was a blessing because these opportunities didn’t exist back home in Mongolia.” Osor was able to find and create a life she’d always envisioned she’d have, and if she had never taken that leap of faith, she would’ve never gotten to where she is right now.

In addition to the idea of the “American Dream,” the U.S. was also known as “the land of opportunity” by many; especially people living overseas in oppressive situations, such was the case for Ionela Harhata, an artist that was commissioned by Purity Nails 21 to paint a mural for Orso’s business. Harhata moved from Romania when she was 19 to the U.S., and “[Romania] was just getting out of the communist regime,” she said. “But as an artist, moving to America was essential for my own growth, in every single way.”

The mural features a fluffy smiling bunny with angel wings held by two hands with pink flowers on top of a teal and turquoise background. Osor wanted to encapsulate the idea that, “the bunnies who have passed are looking down on her and her nail salon with happiness because we were saving their families from being lab experiments. We’re giving them their freedom back, in a way.”

Even though each individual artist’s journey is different, and is filled with difficulty, every opportunity is either a lesson or a blessing. Thomas Dangvu, who was the Director of Fine Arts at an art university in Atlanta, was talking about how “the nail artists never existed until his aunt worked alongside Tippi Hedren.” She was dubbed “the Godmother of the Vietnamese nail industry,” and helped popularise the mani-pedi culture, because of her starred role in The Birds by Alfred Hitchcock. “She was the influencer for the Vietnamese nail artists back then,” Dangvu said.

He also talked about the Vietnamese refugees fleeing their home because it was taken over by the communists, in pursuit of a better life.

“The boat people,” as they were called, found refuge on the California coast in the 70s, and “their journey getting here was horrific, to say the least. Both men and women were killed by starvation, dehydration and natural causes; but the women, in particular, were raped and killed by pirates as well,” Dangvu said. “There were children that were stolen or kidnapped. A small few of those children were able to reunite with their families 30 or 40 years later, but most were never seen again. They went through all of that because they wanted freedom.”

The Vietnamese refugees arrived with nothing and had to start from the bottom. They worked hard to achieve the life they’d envisioned for themselves and their families — away from oppressive governments and socialist environments. “Even though that generation themselves would probably never experience the fruits of their labor at its fullest potential, it was worth everything to gift their future generations the life and freedom they could never have back home,” Dangvu said.

Many different universities in Atlanta are major building blocks for students pursuing a future in artistic endeavors. Artist resident Makumbi Muleba from Zambia believes it is important to have a vision, no matter what industry you’re in, and to know what you want.

“As a kid, I’ve always loved solving problems. It started out as games like puzzles and Lego sets, and figuring out strategic movements to get what I want,’ he said. “So, it’s not surprising that I wanted a career in the arts.”

Coming to America definitely gave him a wider perspective on culture, personal growth and an understanding of how many directions his life could go in. “Zambia isn’t a very artistic place, and no matter what I did I saw myself going out of the country and my comfort zones to gain knowledge and sharing that with my people later,” Muleba said. “Coming from a place where there’s not a lot of resources and then coming here where there are opportunities coming left and right, is astounding.”

The U.S. may not be seen as a place of opportunity for a lot of people that are from here, but to many people coming from elsewhere, it very much still is. Muleba also talked about how other non-American artists in the U.S. are the driving force for a lot of social changes. “One can only understand somebody else when we start asking questions about other people,” Muleba said. “That’s why there’s hate and polarizing thoughts about different people. Getting out of your comfort zone and welcoming new ideas, thoughts and perspectives are essential to change social norms.”

That is where immigrants come in. Wall Street in New York City and the economic stability of the United States were never possible without the help of immigrants.

From an academic article written by Karol Jan Boroweicki, a student from the University of Southern Denmark, and Kathryn Graddy from the International Business School at Brandeis University in Massachusetts, the role of the immigrant artist is essential to widen the perspectives of the American collective. They identified all different types of artists across multiple disciplines, like “art teachers, authors, musicians and music teachers, actors and actresses, architects, and journalists; and found that in the cities that experienced immigrant artist inflows, there was a greater outflow of native artists.”

It is also apparent that when artists are around other artists, conversations start spreading, ideas start forming and change starts. The artist community, no matter where you go or where you came from, it becomes a melting pot of cultures, voices and views on expression and interpretation. The article that was written by Boroweicki and Graddy also said, “the cultural and creative sectors are among the most dynamic sectors in the world economy and are a substantial source of growth, especially in cities.” This supports the role of the artist and the implication that without the artist, the rich culture in the arts wouldn’t be as advanced as it is today.

Atlanta resident Adrian Ferma who works in admissions for an art and design university said that “the students that accept the opportunities they’re given are the ones that can make a difference.” In his experience, opportunities are everywhere, but there are people who waste them away and in the end, “it is what you make it.” The choices you make are the factors that will make or break your career, and furthermore impact your “American Dream.” “But regardless of if you have opportunities or not, knowing when to take action or when to speak up, and when to sit still and be patient, is a balancing act too,” Ferma said. “It’s knowing your limits as well, which is just as hard.”

Prospective students are always confused about their paths before they take them, especially when choosing which university to go to, and what they want to be in the future. He talked about his recent trip to India and meeting the students there.

“They were wide-eyed and asked me if their future dream jobs were obtainable,” he said. “I told them to not limit themselves and to get as much experience as possible to really know what they can do.”

Opportunities are there and it’s important to take them, even if you aren’t ready for them. “I went to career fairs, but I always had a skewed idea of how ‘good’ or ‘capable’ I was, and I wasn’t confident,” he said. “I regret not seizing those opportunities when they presented themselves to me. Career fairs weren’t about whether you were ready or not.” It was about talking to people, getting your foot in the door and making connections; “so, when you are ready, it’s easier to start your career,” Ferma said.

As Harhata paints the finishing touches on the smiling bunny on the mural, she said “I think people don’t believe in the American Dream here because they’re from here. Most immigrants come here to find opportunities that they wouldn’t have had if they stayed wherever they were.” It’s not easy to show someone who’s been here all their life and the resources and opportunities they’re accustomed to. “The only way they learn about someone is to see the life through someone else’s eyes,” Dang Vu said. “Only then do you see a new appreciation for what you have and the experiences you’ve had — especially the good ones. You have newfound gratitude for your life.”

“The American Dream” isn’t a new idea and it’s been associated with the wealthy, or a sign that says, “you made it.” And you’ll only get there if you believe in such a thing and if you are determined to make it happen. Everyone’s “American Dream” is different every single way, and there’s no manual that describes which steps you should take. What the “American Dream” is considered for someone might not be the same as someone else. And it doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, you could be an artist, or an engineer, a chef, a construction worker, a financial analyst — the goal you’re working towards is there, you’ll just have to work for it.

Earning the right to a better life for the non-American community isn’t new either, and neither is it the journey that people want to take, but these communities work for a better tomorrow. These people enrich our cultures, develop the workforce and help local economies, all around the world. The National Gallery of Art (NGA) wrote in an article published on their website and said, “America is frequently described as “a ‘nation of immigrants,’ and they have played a pivotal role in the country’s history. More than 40 million immigrants live in the United States, which is more than in any other country, which results in an abundant diverse culture in a people.”

Whether or not you are an American, an immigrant, a student, or someone trying their best to rake up their opportunities in the U.S., “if a door closes, another one opens,” Dangvu said. “It’s cliche, but it’s true.”

And “when something fails, try again,” Harhata said. “Use those as lessons that help you propel forward, rather than using it as an excuse to give up.” For most immigrants, there is no take-two, there are no second chances and you’ve got to work with what you got.

As I left Purity Nails 21, Osor smiled and said, “I never knew my business would work, but I had faith, and I worked hard. I’ve gotten my dream, so, who knows? Maybe your “American Dream” is already yours. You just don’t see it yet.”

Read the story on Medium by linking the link here

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