“A writer. I want to be a writer.”
I’m met with shocked silence, hesitant smiles, nervous laughs. They asked me questions and delicately danced around the topic. No, I’m not joking. Yes, I’m sure that this is what I want to do. No, I don’t think I’ll change my mind. Of course I’m not trying to disappoint you—that’s the last thing I want to do. Their pained expressions stayed plastered on their faces.
The American dream, “the ideal by which equality of opportunity is available to any American, allowing the highest aspirations and goals to be achieved” as defined by the Oxford dictionary, is what inspired my parents to immigrate to the United States.
Though they didn’t meet until after they’d moved here, both their families followed the same ambition: to have a better quality of life.
“What brings immigrants to the United States is […] the idea of a land of opportunity,” said Lisa Sasaki, head of the Smithsonian’s Asian Pacific American Center, to the Smithsonian Second Opinion. “You can change your circumstances and you can be able to better your financial, social, economic, cultural well-being in the process.”
These factors are what motivated my parents to risk fleeing from the only home they’d ever known to escape the Vietnam War. They struggled and survived in the face of adversity so that I wouldn’t have to, but the life they’d envisioned for me has ironically become my own obstacle that I’ve yet to overcome. Our definitions of the American dream greatly differ. My parents view it as an opportunity to live with stability and security, which are things that being a writing major will not necessarily provide.
“I moved here when I was a teenager and I had to start working right away,” said De Tran, my dad. “[My siblings and I] had to balance work and school to help pay for our house. It was hard because I didn’t know any English when I came [to the US] so I had to learn it very quickly.”
That’s part of why I want to be a writer. Both my parents worked incredibly hard to master English during their first few years here. Even today, they’re still learning new parts of the language. My writing represents the immense growth that they’ve had since they first came to the US.
Yet, deciding to major in journalism isn’t something that came easily. I entertained the idea of about four other career choices—all relating to the medical field and all chosen in the hopes that my answer would make them happy. I was on track to go to California State University, Fullerton as a nursing major.
“Your dad and I just want what’s best for you,” said Nancy Tran, my mom. “Doctors, dentists, and lawyers are always needed. You won’t have to worry about finding work when you finish college. After you find a good job, then you can do writing for fun on the side.”
I completely understand her perspective and truly appreciate how my parents want to give me the best opportunities for success, but I soon came to realize how impractical that was.
“Of the country’s approximately 100 million full-time employees, 51 percent aren’t engaged at work,” polling and management consulting firm Gallup reported in its study conducted on the American workplace. “Another 16 percent are ‘actively disengaged’—meaning they feel no real connection to their jobs, and thus they tend to do the bare minimum.”
It’s inevitable that I’d end up resenting choosing a practical major for my parents’ sake. I’d be doing a disservice to them, myself, and future patients. Not to mention, it would be a waste of time and money, especially when factoring in the cost of medical school.
For the most part, my initial hesitancy has since worn off and I’m far more willing to choose job satisfaction over job stability.
I’m aware of the precarious nature that comes with majoring in journalism. The demand for journalists and writers is expected to decrease by 10 percent in the next few years. Many entry-level jobs in the field require prior experience. Since it’s a constantly-evolving profession, my degree will never fully prepare me for the real-world expectations of the job.
There will always be some degree of lingering doubt in the back of my mind that makes me question my choice, especially now that I’m left with only a few months to cement my final decision for college applications, but it’s time that I acted on what I perceive to be the American dream.
I view it as my chance to take more risks, to take advantage of the opportunities that my parents could never afford. In their minds, it means to earn enough money to live comfortably. Of course, that’s a prospect I’d never say no to. However, if it means sacrificing my happiness along the way, I see no point in wasting my time. I’d much rather be ambitious and fail than to play it safe and never be satisfied.
They view my decision as wasting an opportunity but instead I’m fully taking advantage of one. I’ll always be eternally grateful for the sacrifices they’ve made for our family. I only hope they’ll understand that I have the same objective they had in mind when they immigrated: to take a chance on future happiness.