Aimee Garcia is an actress in Los Angeles. She's appeared in George Lopez, Dexter, and Lucifer.
My mom is "da bomb." She was born in Puebla, Mexico, and though her parents didn't have a lot of money, they always sent her and her brother to the best schools they could afford. My grandfather had holes in his socks, but somehow found a way to put my mom in piano classes. He and my grandmother believed a good education would give their kids choices. And, they were right.
My mom graduated top of her class in Mexico and that gave her the opportunity to attend graduate school in the US. She became the first Latina to graduate Northwestern University's Dental School, even though she came to this country with less-than-perfect English.
"I couldn't understand the full lecture right away, so the school gave me permission to tape record the lectures. That way, I could listen to them when I got home and translate them before I started studying." When I asked her if that was hard, she said, "I cannot complain. I worked my whole life. I was so busy doing the schoolwork. I was in school from 7 am to 10 pm. No time to complain."
My mom was 26 years old when she came to this country and was one of only two girls in her entire dental program. She was a pioneer; a trailblazer. And, when I asked her what she loved about this country recently, she said, "In the United States, you can be whomever you are . . . you can clean bathrooms, you can be a friend, you can be a doctor. This country appreciates everyone. It's not a class system. It's a place where anything is possible. I'm very happy that I came here. I'm blessed. What else can I ask for?" Like I said, she's the best.
My dad was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. His family was very poor. They didn't even have indoor plumbing! So, my grandfather joined the military to give his kids a better life. After schlepping from France (where my grandfather was stationed) to Missouri, the family settled in the Fort Sheridan military base in Chicago. And, even though my grandmother was reluctant to speak English (because she was embarrassed of her thick accent), she always told her kids, "You're going to college."
My dad learned English and worked as a busboy, dishwasher, newspaper boy and gardener to help pay for school supplies. "I was a fairly shy and introverted kid, but I had my close knit buddies. My best friend was this African American kid named Joshua. We were in accelerated classes, so I guess we were 'nerds.'" When I asked my dad what he thought this country had offered him, he said, "It has provided many opportunities. My dad joining the military opened up many doors for us to get a great education in Chicago and go to college."
As for me, I was born in the US, in Chicago, and grew up speaking Spanish at home. Having it as my first language has kept me rooted in my culture. To this day, if my mom calls me, I'll always speak to her in Spanish. Like my mom, I excelled in school and graduated from Northwestern University. (I never got my masters, but graduated with degrees in Economics, Journalism and French.)
What does the American Dream mean to me? It means having the opportunity to do all of this, achieve your dreams . . . even if you come from humble beginnings. It means living in a country where if you work hard (and smart), you can accomplish anything — regardless of gender, race or socio-economic status. I know that no country is perfect, but I feel like America is still the "Land of Opportunity." I am a proud product of my immigrant parents' American dream. I feel lucky to live in this country and be part of two cultures. I am Puerto Rican. I am Mexican. I am American. I am Latina.