My Dad’s American Dream
by Nancy Mach, June 2018
The American Dream, what is it? Everyone has different ideas of it, but my dad has a very special one. To some people, as stated by scholar Ryan Kasser, “Pursuing material wealth is sometimes viewed as empty or shallow and as precluding investment in one’s family and friends, self-actualization and contributions to society.” Everyone’s idea of an American Dream is different. My dad has a very unique one that is not an American tradition. To the ordinary American, in general, “Financial success has long been a core component of the American Dream, and many of the values modeled and encouraged by modern society suggest that success and happiness depend on procuring monetary wealth” (Derber). As you read along, you will find the true purpose to life itself.
My dad’s story started out in Vietnam when his dream was simply safety and peace because it was dangerous there, giving him no choice but to leave. My dad is a big advocate for peace; he never stands up to anybody. My father’s home is America, which is more peaceful than Vietnam. My father, Donald Mach, was born in Vietnam and he is a remarkable man. He is a generous peacemaker. My dad is warm, thoughtful and devoted, the patriarch of the family. He very much takes good care of mom and me. In school, my dad loved to study math. He always got good grades. Vietnam, to him, was absolutely fascinating but there was a lot of turmoil. In Vietnam, there were a lot of robberies. People had to go to the army and never knew when they were going to die. Vietnam was going to be in war and was becoming communistic. There was a lot of anarchy. The United States of America was calm. America was much better than Vietnam in this way. The respect of human rights here is better. He recalls, “Escaping from death and war and communism, America is freedom for me.” My father’s identity is here in America. He’s already an American citizen. It’s fine here in the U.S., he says; even though his housing condition and lifestyle is in disarray, there are opportunities here in America that Vietnam does not have.
My dad’s first goal was to make it to the US and be free from Communism and war: that shaped his American Dream at that time. My father’s fantasy was to have a better life and come to the US for a better chance of landing a job and to send me to college. “I like it here better, because it’s easier to find a job here.” Almost every immigrant I’ve met would say that they came to America for a new life and a new beginning. America is a stepping-stone to start and to having a better chance for prosperity and success. “Americans have long been aware of our special circumstance. We think of America as a refuge for every human being who has ever dreamed of a better life and been willing to risk his or her own to come here and start over” (Rifkin 1). In the beginning, my dad wanted to search for the promise land, hoping that would get him to the American Dream, to get away from the tumult. He traveled to America by boat through the Pacific Ocean. There were no jobs available because of the Vietnam War. He was in the army while there was Communism. My dad stayed in the Philippines for half a year. It was really hard to survive in Vietnam. “It is better here in the US…more freedom.” He wanted me to do well in school, thrive, go to UC Berkeley, and live the better life that he couldn’t have in Vietnam. He was a refugee so he pressured me to achieve well in school. He doesn’t know much about American laws and traditions. Nor does he comprehend how to achieve the American Dream. All he knows is how to work hard and go to school. But later he finds that it’s what’s inside that counts because one can graduate from UC Berkeley but it doesn’t mean one’s life will automatically be prosperous and abundant. That’s how he sees his American Dream: to have an auspicious, safe and abundant life.
Even though my dad regrets choosing to live in the Tenderloin, which contains many drug addicts, homeless, filth, and poverty, and is the poorest neighborhood in San Francisco, his biggest goals were to find safety and harness his ability to survive with food and shelter, which has been accomplished! My parents’ current situation living in the Tenderloin has numerous problems but still he manages to find happiness. “I would much rather live in a house in the Monterey Heights than the Tenderloin but I know that wouldn’t solve all my problems.” My family lives in the Tenderloin, the most unfavorable part of the city in San Francisco. He has told me that he regrets not buying a house when he could have two decades ago. He regrets my mom’s decision to live in the Tenderloin. But even though he would like a house, he still thinks that even if he had one, what’s more important is having contentment and inner peace of heart and mind because he thinks that’s better than big thrills. Real estate prices have gone up more than 100%. He never harkened to my mother about buying our own home 20 years ago, when we could easily have afforded it. He was too scared to do it, and now it’s too late. There’s no way we can sustain a home a now. Everything has gotten worse in that neighborhood. It just keeps getting poorer, not better. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Every time I visit my parents at their apartment, there is feces, both dog and human, on the ground everywhere. There is broken glass, litter, and a foul odor. Drug addicts are lying on the ground. Their home is surrounded by homeless people. It’s so upsetting to me to walk back and forth and see tents and the homeless people can be so rude! They can toss out insults at me all the time. I feel bad, not just him, but for myself. It’s awful. There’s nothing I can do. It is terrible. I feels like it is hell walking through all those homeless people. To him, it is quite vulgar but there is nothing that can be done. He just wants to remain optimistic. “I don’t like it but there nothing to do.” The apartment I had to live in with them in is said to be haunted. The last resident there had warned us that there had been a woman that had passed there and that the house was haunted, but my mom cared not to listen. My dad wanted me to do well in school, which is any parents’ dream for their kids. He wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer. That’s what my parents wanted for me, to be successful. I have so much bitterness towards my mother. I hate her. We don’t get along. I feel so angry with my mom. Why did she choose to live in the Tenderloin when there are so many other places like Cole Valley, Haight, Richmond, Sunset, etc.? Why, oh why, did they choose a frightful place like the Tenderloin? I cannot comprehend her decision at all, though one can still make the best of life in every given situation. For example, one can live in a mansion with demons or be a doorman in heaven. He still has achieved relative safety and peace.
While places like the Monterey Heights neighborhood with luxury cars, and materialism is a depiction of the American Dream for some people, that Dream is different from my dad’s. He realizes that this depiction shown in the photo montage may cause distress and huge anxiety to others. My dad thinks people with money seem to control and manipulate others by showing off their material possessions. I agree with him; people dress to impress and spend thousands on clothes, perfume, shoes, eyelash extensions, handbags, tanning, makeup, waxing, nails and even cosmetic surgery just to prove their point. “First, Emmons (1991) found that personal strivings for power (desires to control, impress, or manipulate others) were associated with more negative affect and more distress” (Kasser and Ryan 410). People will drive nearby City College with their nice cars just to show off what they have. In the journal article “Zeroing in on the Dark Side of the American Dream: A Closer Look at the Negative Consequences of the Goal for Financial Success,” by Carol Nickerson, Norbert Schwarz, Ed Diener, they deduce, “The American Dream of financial success has negative consequences for various aspects of psychological well-being.” Basically, as the family income increases, the happiness decreases because the more they want money, the less the family is happy.
My dad says when one sees money as a means of success, he or she will fail to achieve happiness. Despite the popular belief that wealth, fame, money and fortune can bring happiness, my dad envisions the American Dream, which he carried with him from Vietnam to America, to involve working towards one’s individual success through goals while maintaining a harmonic balance of one’s self through good morals and values. My dad sees the contrast between celebrities and the super-rich and the poor in the Tenderloin as misleading, and realizes that wealth is not the answer to life. Despite all these riches, they can’t bring happiness. My dad feels that it’s better to be rich inside than to sell one’s soul for fame and fortune. In America, there are people like Rihanna, Donald Trump, Beyoncé, and Ariana Grande, the ultra-rich, and then there’s my dad and me, who are low income. There’s a big difference between the two. There are the super-rich, and the super-poor. When my dad walks downtown, he sees homeless people begging for money, the Tenderloin (a neighborhood filled with poverty and drugs), and Glide Memorial Church (a soup kitchen); he’s saddened by the fact that the contrast between the two is so unfair and treacherous. On one hand, the wealthy tourists are coming out of the Hilton Hotel in Union Square holding shopping bags, coming out of Louis Vuitton; then the other hand, a homeless person sits down asking for change. Stated by Deci et al., “Higher control orientations have been shown in past research to be associated with less self-actualization, more concern with what others think and less-emotion-behavior congruence.” People may care more about how they look and their material possessions than the human beings around them. There are men and women alike who love to shop, are obsessed with shallow and superficial things, and don’t care for things that truly matter like education, love, and family. There are young and rich people that get everything they want, go shopping all the time, don’t have to work, and live in nice houses, but in the end they turn out to be miserable. Some things are more important than cosmetics and clothes. Being rich and shopping all the time for beauty products can be nice but in the end, fashion fades. Education is forever. Nobody can take away one’s education. Education, love and family should be more valued because they are what truly matters. He sees people drive Downtown or by his workplace with their hot cars just to show off their possessions. Wealth cannot bring one happiness.
My dad thinks the process of going from rags to riches doesn’t mean automatic happiness, proving that famous people falter even having millions of dollars. To my dad, if he’s happy with making life goals and reaching them, that’s what is more important. What’s more important, what people think about each other and what car one drives, or their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing? To my father, how he feels inside is more important than where he lives and whether he takes the bus. He has told me before that one can have all the money in the world but be poor in every other way. If one has nothing in their life but money, that is not an abundant and prosperous life. That is more like death. He feels many people who are super rich and have everything commit suicide and become drug addicts. My dad thinks a good example is Lindsay Lohan. He feels that she had everything young girls could ever want. She had beauty, talent, intelligence, fame and fortune. There was nothing she lacked. She was the girl every guy wanted and the one that all the girls want to be. Well, look at her now. She did a 180 degree. She was beautiful and young and her life started to go into a downward spiral. She started to act out as a bad girl by partying and doing drugs like cocaine and crack. It started to show physically by her aging and becoming very homey. Now she lives in Dubai, where she is hiding out so that no paparazzi can take photos of her. She let the fame get to her and now she cannot turn back. Once she was young and had it all and the next thing she looks like she’s 69 years old when she’s only 31! So there it goes to show that money doesn’t bring happiness. My dad is right. “Is the content of goals and values differentially associated with the well-being of the individuals who hold them?” (Ryan and Kasser 280). Isn’t true that inside is what matters? The goals and values that one has should matter and what one individual’s wellbeing of mind, body, and spirit matters more than what makeup or outfit a woman is sporting. One may have $2000 in their pocket walking Downtown, yet one can feel like the most miserable person in the universe or another person can have only $100 and be the happiest person on earth. True story.
My dad thinks rags to riches is not what he values and I agree with him. I say look at the superstar female rapper Cardi B. She claims, “Everybody got different beliefs and different religions and were raised differently, yet you also supposed to be careful you don’t offend somebody. Everybody gets bothered about everything. Everybody got a fucking opinion about you. You always got to filter yourself.” She claims that she was happier before she got famous. I agree. She said she had more privacy. “Abraham Lincoln, our most legendary, charismatic president, embodied both myths of the American Dream: the rags to riches, materialist myth of individual success and the egalitarian moralistic myth of brotherhood” (Fisher 2). Focusing on goals and achievements like motivation, organization and preparation skills, and works hard every day to make the next day better is surely more valuable than just shopping and obsessing over shallow things. Fashion and beauty trends come and go because they are like sand on a beach that get washed up by the waves. One needs to build a life with stones and brick that will last through the storm.
Being in the present moment and enjoying life as it comes along is having peace and harmony, is what my dad values, and that’s a lot better than being a hamster in a windmill. It is like when one is going, going, and going but not making any progression. It is like running around in circles going nowhere. When all we are doing is chasing after what we desire for the future instead of living in the present hour losing inner peace. “If you work on your academic achievement and you do well in life and have self-worth. And making goals to make yourself better matters to me more than driving a beautiful famous car.” To my dad, life is like a rat race when one is trying madly to get that degree, get that luxury car, and get that job. He thinks it’s like a hamster in the windmill, running round and around and getting nowhere. He says that’s a lot like life to many people. Why, when all one needs is what one already has inside? My dad thinks values like abstinence or sobriety are more important than driving a beamer. “You need to know that as long as you are attaining your goals and achieving them, and happy with your life, that’s what matters to me.” He says if one is happy with what they have now and not just what they are waiting for next week, that’s a sign that one has got to stop and smell the roses. It’s important to live in your body and not just in your mind. “The American Dream Nixon personifies [is] an image more in harmony with their present, predominate self-concept…” (Fisher 1). My dad feels that when you focus on the present moment and the concept of right now, life is easier to handle. Tim Kasser and Richard M. Ryan at the University of Rochester writes in the journal article “Further Examining the American Dream: Differential Correlates of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Goals,” “Only money (e.g., achieving financial success), family security (e.g., a stable home life), and global welfare (e.g., world peace) are of interest here, corresponding to financial success, affiliation, and community feeling domains, respectively.” If it’s who our friends are, what neighborhood we live in, and how much money one has that ultimately defines people, life is so depressing. So if one lived in the Tenderloin and was low-income and had unattractive friends, does that mean he or she is a loser? It must make those people feel lowlier than someone who lives in the Beverly Hills, is gorgeous and has beautiful friends. That sounds pretty shallow because it doesn’t mean the rich person is happier. One may drive a Toyota and be happier than somebody who drives a Jaguar.
My dad thinks that inner peace is better than being wealthy and living in grief and sadness. “The overall likelihood of attaining one’s aspirations was positively related to self-actualization and vitality” (Fisher 413). According to my dad, aspiring for the little, simple things are more important than fame and fortune. “And it is naturally opposed by those who place highest value on moral rather than material goods” (Fisher 161). It’s his own choice and declaration what he want to do with his life and make his own destiny. So his dreams can flourish and his goals can be achieved. He wants me to graduate from CCSF, get a certificate and land a career. He may not like it in the Tenderloin just as much as I do. He’s not happy about it but he wants to make the best of every situation. “You feel good inside, good enough, you know.” He’s wise in knowing that. “Self-acceptance assesses aspirations for individual psychological growth, self-esteem, and autonomy. Research on values has found the related domains of self-direction and maturity” (Schwartz & Bilsky). Exactly, being free, being a grown adult, growing psychologically, having confidence in onerself, and aspiring for one’s dreams: that’s the definition of my dad’s American Dream.
After all, my dad’s life has the basic foundation of happiness which is safety, food, housing, family, and a job which he is ever grateful for because he has exactly what he needs and needs nothing more. He never got to make the traditional American Dream (like everyone else) but just the fact that he’s here instead of in Vietnam is enough. “Communism … I like Capitalism better.” He never got to make millions of dollars. It’s either a life or death situation living in Vietnam. “I came to America hoping you could go to school your education very important.” To my dad, America has been very helpful. It gave him a job, retirement, a wife, a daughter, and more importantly, abundance, peace, prosperity, and joy. He will be able to retire and can live life joyfully. He can be happy because he has wisdom and inner sense of peace and contentment.
My dad feels that inner peace, harmony, and good morals matter most. Abstaining from sex, purity, and waiting for the right person is always a good thing. Sex is like a lawnmower: if one doesn’t know how to work it, it may cause great damage. When a woman gives her most precious body to a man that does not respect and truly care for her, it is a waste and painful for the woman herself. Also, having a clean sobriety and not smoking and drinking is not only good for the physical health but also for the mental health as well. Drugs are very awful and can cause great harm to one’s life. It may ruin a person’s entire life permanently. It is like selling one’s soul; once it’s gone, it is gone forever. The true American Dream is not wealth and materialism. Having goals, values, good morals, and self-individual success, and striving for world peace is vital to living the American Dream. My dad thinks that money does get people a lot of things. Money gets people almost everything one can dream of. Money is seductive and if people have nice houses so cars, they thnk they are living well. Plus they have more financial freedom. My dad’s initial dream was to have peace in his homeland and to get away from the pandemonium. He needed a job to survive, a place to live and be safe. Since he has achieved those dreams, his new dreams are different as I have pointed out this whole time. He feels if he’s motivated, works hard, and has excellent preparation and organization skills, that will take him far in daily life, which will make one quite a success in itself. Although my dad asks, “Who doesn’t want money?” he wants money too, and feels money is universal. It makes everybody happy. Then again, if one is depressed and goes on shopping sprees, the happiness is only temporary. He says, “It is instant gratification but that doesn’t last long.” My dad thinks that attaining and improving one’s life every day is a good motivational tool for happiness and self-fulfillment. He feels that if ones’ life is full of abundance and prosperity even if it’s invisible, that’s what one should be striving for. Just because someone has money does not automatically mean their life is abundant. The American Dream is setting the right goals and values for oneself, living presently in harmony with others, having one’s own aspirations, one’s own concept of individual success, being morally good, behaving in a brotherly way, and striving for world peace. This is the true meaning to life and the dream of not just Americans but the whole world.
Charles S. Carver, Eryn Baird. “The American Dream Revisited: Is It What You Want or Why You Want It That Matters?”; First Published July 1, 1998;http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-9280.00057
Nancy E. Hill and Kathryn Torres. “Negotiating the American Dream: The Paradox of Aspirations and Achievement among Latino Students and Engagement between their Families and Schools” First published: 09 March 2010;http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1540-4560.2009.01635.x/full
Kasser, Tim, and Richard M. Ryan. “Further Examining the American Dream: Differential Correlates of Intrinsic and Extrinsic Goals.” Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, vol. 22, no. 3, 1996, pp. 280–287., doi:10.1177/0146167296223006.
Kasser, Tim, and Richard M. Ryan. “A Dark Side of the American Dream: Correlates of Financial Success as a Central Life Aspiration.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, vol. 65, no. 2, 1993, pp. 410–422., doi:10.1037//0022-35188.8.131.520.
Mach, Donald. “The American Dream.” 1 May 2018. Oral History Project; English 1A; Dr. Steven Mayers; CCSF; Nancy Mach
Carol Nickerson, Norbert Schwarz, Ed Diener. “Zeroing in on the Dark Side of the American Dream A Closer Look at the Negative Consequences of the Goal for Financial Success” First Published November 1, 2003;
Do you like living in your apartment in the Tenderloin? No, but I have no choice. I cannot afford a home in a nicer area right now.
Do you like flowers? Yes, I like looking at them. I would like to grow some if I could.
What are your wishes? A nicer home, a better happier, and lifestyle
What is your favorite neighborhood? Monterey Heights. It’s beautiful there. Safe, no litter, no homeless, quiet and serene.
What did you do when you were young? When I was young I loved to play Ping Pong.
Where do you wish to live? I would wish to have a happier life in the Monterey Heights
Do you like living in the in the Tenderloin. No I don’t. I am disgusted by the like the litter, smell, and the drug addicts.
What is your favorite food? I like to eat Vietnamese food.
Do you speak English well? I know a little only.
If you could go back to Vietnam would you? No, only to visit but not to live. It is better here in the U.S. …more freedom.
What do you like about USA? I like it here better. Because it’s easier to find a job here.
Is San Francisco cheap or expensive? San Francisco is a wonderful place but rent is very expensive. It’s hard to live here. I want to own a home.
What color would You paint your own house? I would love to paint the exterior of my house yellow
What do you think about the drug addicts and homeless around your area? I don’t like them but living here is closer to my job. I work in a hotel nearby Union Square.
Have you ever done drugs? No, I never have done drugs. And I’m glad I never had. They are bad for you.
How was Vietnam like? Vietnam is very pretty and very beautiful
To you what is the real reason you came to America?
I dream of making success I come and find a job and have a family. And have retirement plan. So I could go on vacations. I see the American dream would like to have a safe home to live. A happy home, auspicious. But if you cannot do that what really matter is that you are happy inner self happy. If you work on your academic achievement and you do well in life and self-worth. And you make goals to make yourself better that matters to me more than driving a beautiful famous car.
What are your wishes?
My wish is that you can be happy even though I did not give u born an American dream. I want you to be happy by inside. And how you feel about your own life. Happiness is not just from material stuff from your money is from your inside.
Are you happy? Are you okay? Why do you always frown? I am worried about you.
I am stuck there is nothing I can do. That’s life. But at least I can eat and sleep and I am not homeless. It could be worse. Escaping from death and war and communism, America is freedom for me. I just want you to do well you can move on to where a nice place you want to live and be independent. I want you to be happy and successful in your own life. You are free you are over 18. No longer dependent on me. I want a happier life. I want a better future and lifestyle but it’s hard right now. But I have a job and I have retirement plan that is okay with me.
How do you think the American dream is like?
It is a lie that American dream mean money you can have a lot of money but be miserable. Happiness come from in your heart and inside your soul. If you happy with every day happen that’s why you happy inside. You can be poor inside and rich with money. I want a nice house so I could enjoy but I cannot. In America it is always about car or house you own to show off. If your life is direction that good enough. You feel good inside good enough you know?
If you are depressed don’t you think you should take medication?
I’m fine. Medication will just make things worse. I had told your mom we want to live in Richmond or Sunset and she don’t listen. Too late now. I hate walking around here it is like hell. Dirty everywhere, bad people. But Vietnam worse a lot of robbery and danger. Communism … I like Capitalism better.
What is your idea of an American Dream?
I would like to have a pretty home in a safe area. I’m sorry I not give that for you. I came to America hoping you could go to school your education very important. And provide for me and mom. Either way I proud of you what you become. You work hard and you are beautiful girl.
Where else would you want to live at?
Ideally I want my house in Ingleside or Sunset or Richmond somewhere safe. Living here is so stress and strife for me. I don’t like it but there nothing to do. I cannot afford.
What about me now?
I know you are grown and you are now 30 and you can choose your own life. You no need to depend on me and mom.
Sorry I did not fulfil your dream to go to UC Berkeley.
You need to know that as long as you are attaining your goals and achieving and happy with your life that’s what matters to me. It doesn’t matter for you to have a car or driving, as long as inside you are know you do good. You are happy with inside yourself. If you happy then I happy too.
What would you have done different?
I regret not buying a house sooner. I am so regret. I hope things can change. Hopefully you do well in your life and things can get better if you work hard in school. Sorry I didn’t give you a good life with an American dream.
Are you happy?
Don’t worry for me. Worry for yourself. I can take care of myself. I am a big now. It’s okay you don’t need money to be happy. You are happy already. I don’t need to be rich to be happy. As long as I can have food on my table and roof over my head I am happy. When I in Vietnam cannot survive, die anytime.
If you had one wish what would it be?
I would love to have beautiful, big house in a beautiful neighbor and a lot a lot a lot money but the most important thing is happiness inside if you happy inside that you got it. You broke no money and happiest in the world. And you can be walking in Union Square $5000 in pocket and you most miserable. Life is what you make. You already learn from me. You know me. I tell you all the time. Yes there’s homeless outside so what inside is okay. Just don’t go out at night. Rent is cheap here. You go elsewhere rent too expensive.
What makes you happy?
I like play Ping Pong. And Chinese Chess and Listen to Chinese Music and watch Vietnamese movie or Hong Kong Movie. Happiness it comes from inside, a nice feeling in your soul. No materialistic thing. Wake up and drink a coffee. Having a roof, food and eating, have a family, have people that truly love you not false love care. Being safe. Have peace. Be peacemaker. No enemy. Everywhere mom go she has enemies. Don’t make enemy with no-one. Be peaceful.
Make goals and achieve them. Everyday things that you make to learn to grow. Every day is new day. A new present to open. Christmas present. People learn from their own mistake. You make mistake, you learn. You go through big suffer and you go stronger. Am I right? Life is fair. Do you know what I went through in Vietnam? Now look at my life now. You go through rotten thing and you get stronger. I always teach you these thing peace is the answer. No enemies.
So, what matters is how you feel inside and not if you’re rich and drive a Rolls Royce or Bentley?
Exactly. Rich people sometime kill themselves they not happy. You have all the money in the world and not happy. Life is grow and learn that it. If you enjoy your life you rich inside. Now if you rich inside that’s the secret. Simple. Just keep life simple. Me and mom never go out or vacation or buy house. We have food and shelter that what matter to us. No need for those extra things. Waste money.