New West Charter’s First Annual American Experience Night

In the beginning of this year, 11th grade English teacher, Mrs. Everett assigned her students to write a narrative detailing their personal American experience. Because of the overwhelming depth, variety, and honesty in these essays, Mrs. Everett thought it may be interesting to hear from different generations of these students’ families, in order to see how their American experience has changed through the years. From all of this came (hopefully) a new tradition at New West: American Experience Night.

On Thursday, December 11th, tons of students (there may have been some extra credit involved ;)…) and family members gathered to hear a group of people of all ages and generations share their American experiences. This group included myself, detailing the struggles of having no struggles, Wendy Walsh, Carrington McDowell-Walsh, discussing her distaste for the American lifestyle, multiple generation’s of 11th grader Nick Fopeano’s family, Bob Goon (Teddy Solomon’s grandfather), James Kay (Jordan Kay’s father), Isabel Agtual, reading from her perspective as well as her father’s and uncle’s, Salma Cruz, Miranda deMarrais-Spero, and Sade Adewumni. The diversity seen from experience to experience was astounding. I think that everyone there that night can say that they were truly able to look into many different worlds that we forget are even there most of the time. If you weren’t able to make it, here are a few of the essays that were read:

The Great Oyster

By: Elizabeth Beugg

White, educated, and privileged. Three basic words that describe the American experience I am lucky enough to have. Growing up in urban West Los Angeles, I had an environment that allowed me to dream big and reach for the stars, or so I thought. It all started in kindergarten, when I aspired to become the world’s first “astronaut ballerina”. Everyone thought it was cute that I wanted to be something impossible, but I was serious.

Eventually, I realized that maybe being an “astronaut ballerina” wasn’t for me, so I concluded that I wanted to be a world renowned cartoonist. Everyone loved my drawings, so much so that I decided I deserved some sort of professional credit. The next day I mailed them off in a little, white envelope to be received by the American Girl Corporation. A few weeks later I received a letter thanking me for my thoughtful contribution, but explaining that the American Girl Corporation doesn’t take submissions from children. I was crushed. I thought my ideas were innovative and cutting edge, something no one had ever seen before, but they were perceived as a joke; no one would take me seriously. Somewhere along the line, my dreams of being a cartoonist were lost and replaced with the desire to become the one and only Attorney General of the United States. Convinced this was my path in life, I made elaborate plans (involving the “take down” of my many anticipated competitors) and did extensive research, only to have my dream scoffed at by anyone who seemed willing to listen. No matter how I tried to prove myself, I could tell no one truly thought I was serious: I was dead serious.

Because I am who I am, people already have a predetermined sense of my character. I am often assumed to be ignorant or silly. It is a rare occasion when I am given the opportunity to prove that I am a hard worker, that I am compassionate and tolerant. I am unable to crack open the great oyster that holds my journey towards achieving the American dream. Because I am surrounded by success, my dreams are often treated as if they have already been achieved. My American experience is being pushed aside because I’m okay, because I don’t need help, because my future is bound to be exactly like my present—just fine, but I’m not fine. My dreams matter, my thoughts matter, my life matters; no matter where I come from, I matter. Because of what people think my American experience is, they have judged me before I have spoken. It is assumed that I have no struggles, maybe I don’t; maybe having no struggles is my struggle. This hardship seems so insignificant when compared to the grand scheme of things, but it is still my hardship.

Society makes it seem that if you aren’t starving on the streets, your problems don’t matter. While this is obviously true to some extent, there is a point where one must realize that everyone has a different path in life. Everyone has his or her own challenges that he or she must face, and whose place is it to tell them that their challenges are less important than someone else’s? The concept of the American dream only further supports this twisted belief. Society has a million rules and regulations for what kind of person can have a dream. If you are white it is too easy for you to achieve your dream for it to even be considered a dream. If you are poor you do not have the necessary means to achieve your a dream. If you are rich you can simply walk out and buy your dream. If you are a minority you will always be a step behind on the journey to achieving your dream. The problem with this, however, is after all these rules and regulations, who is left to qualify for a dream? I don’t know. Maybe no one can ever fully open the great oyster that is the American dream. It is an empty promise created by idealists; the American dream is unattainable. It will leave you feeling as if the grass if greener somewhere else, even if your lawn is the deepest shade of emerald anyone has ever seen.

As for me, I am not so sure that I care about “the American dream” anymore. I would rather live life and be happy than spend the rest of my days chasing after something I will never be able to catch, and as for that great oyster, I think I would rather keep it shut.

The North American Experience

By: Carrington Walsh

I came to a realization while visiting my family in Canada. I am on a treadmill. No, not a literal treadmill. The treadmill that American society puts us on. Let me explain.

I was raised by a Canadian mother in an American world. I have two passports, thus making me a Canadian and an American citizen. Although I’ve lived in Los Angeles the vast majority of my life, my American experience has not been entirely American. It’s been North- American, if you will.

Most Americans view Canada as “the fifty-first state,” or, if they don’t see it to that extent, they see Canadian culture as a culture very similar to American culture. However, as someone who has been immersed into both, I see two distinct cultures. As a child, I was given two cultures in one household: the American way from my father, and the Canadian way from my mother. The American way and the Canadian way contradict each other quite a bit. From my father, I was taught to be cutthroat. I was taught that no one will cut you slack, and if you want to make it anywhere, you have to be a shark. From my mother, I was taught compassion and kindness. I was also taught that there isn’t one path to success.

I suppose the harsh truth that my father told me is the effect of his growing up in a capitalist society. And my mother’s teachings are the effect of being raised in a socialist society.

Recently, the topic of college has come up quite a bit in my house. The way capitalism treats college is very different than the way socialism treats college. Since I go to an American school and have American friends, it has been indoctrinated into me that college is necessary to become successful. Not only that, but to be truly successful, I must go to a top-notch college. I must also have perfect grades, take as many Honors, AP, or IB classes as possible, join many clubs, and have extracurricular activities. We must do all those things so we can get accepted to the top colleges and hopefully get a scholarship, too. This is the American way.

That is not the Canadian way.

The Canadian way is to apply to the university closest to your house and go there. High schoolers don’t stress over their grades, because they know they’ll be able to get a great education from a four-year university, even if they are a straight B student. Everyone can have a great education in Canada, regardless of money or status.

I envy that education system. I envy the fact that Canadian students don’t have to stress over grades like I do every day. Instead, they can relax. They can start a band, make a movie, or get a part time job in their spare time. They don’t lock themselves inside their rooms and do homework day in and day out.

In many ways, my American experience has consisted of stress. Worrying about money; worrying about school; worrying about my job; worrying about my health; worrying about the club I run; worrying about whatever else floats my way. And for what?

I slave over my school work for college. I attend college so I can get a job. I work hard for my job so I can get paid. Stress comes which each of those things. But does happiness? I’m on this treadmill that American society put me on at birth, and I’m not striving towards happiness or family or inner-peace. Instead, I strive for money.

Will this treadmill of worry, stress, and greedy need for money ever stop? And where will this treadmill get me?

comes which each of those things. But does happiness? I’m on this treadmill that American society put me on at birth, and I’m not striving towards happiness or family or inner-peace. Instead, I strive for money.

Will this treadmill of worry, stress, and greedy need for money ever stop? And where will this treadmill get me?

(See more of Carrington’s writing at writingsfromcarrington.blogspot.com)

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