Family gathering, a reminder to support the American Dream

Holidays bring families together. For me, we had Christmas in Las Vegas with my in-laws. The parents and all five of their children along with each of their families rendezvoused in Vegas from five different cities.

My wife’s family is a Korean immigrant family, that came to Chicago in the late 1960’s. With five children, the parents started various small businesses and worked extremely hard to make ends meet. There were not much discretionary funds, so they ate mostly at home together, thankful for what they did have.

At the Christmas dinner this year, the mother shared how she regretted not being able to take the children even to MacDonald’s when they were young. She gave money to each of the children, now adults, from some gold she sold as a way of making up for that regret. The grown children, for their part, only remember good times as youngsters, such as the family vacations in a rented RV, ice-skating with their father, or the family holiday dinners. They had never regretted the lack of material wealth.

The fact is, as adults, each of the children have done well in many ways and can afford a better life. That’s because of the drive that most second-generation immigrants harbor from watching their parents sacrifice.

Their story is similar to that my own, and many other immigrant families. Our generation feel a sense of guilt from our parents’ sacrifices. We are generally passionate defenders of the “American  Dream”. We do not feel entitled, but rather grateful for our opportunities. Our parents lived and worked for us and that is a burden that constantly drives us.

One of America’s greatest assets is the brain gain phenomenon. The access to capital and the general environment of meritocracy keep the American Dream alive for all. More than 57% of all ventured-backed companies in the last decade was founded or co-founded by someone born outside the US. What a tremendous advantage!

Yet, we continue to make it more difficult for immigration. First, with the short-sighted policies of the Patriot Act that made it difficult for motivated foreign students to attend US Universities, and now the US Senate recently has rejected the House-backed immigration act to offer a path to citizenship to young undocumented immigrants who attend college or enroll in the military.

The American Dream still lives — not just for immigrants, but for all.  However, in focus groups, we’ve learned that there is a huge difference in the perception of what this means between immigrant youths versus those from more traditional American families. The immigrants are clearly more positive and optimistic. We need them to continue to drive our Dream and lead the rest of the society to see what a great opportunity it can be to be living and doing business in the United States. That is our America, and it’s okay to disagree with the likes of Sarah Palin even if her family got here before us. In fact, I insist that we do.