Renee Beck
Washington-Lee High School
Arlington, Virginia
12th Grade
Second Place Winner, Virginia

What does the American Dream mean to you and is it still thriving in Greater Washington?

I was born in Yueyang City, Hunan Province, People’s Republic of China in 1998. At that time China’s One Child Policy was in effect. This policy was implemented as a means of population control, limiting families to one child. There was one exception. Families whose first child was a girl were allowed to have a second child. This exception was allowed due to a deeply rooted preference for sons rather than daughters. Sons were traditionally inclined to stay with and support elderly parents, whereas girls married and took care of the husband’s family.

This resulted in the abandonment of countless girls, many of them second children. Chinese girls found themselves abandoned out of their parents’ fear of being punished by the government, or due to their parents’ desire for another chance to try for a boy.

I was one of those girls. Shortly after I was born, I was left in front of a large department store with an unsigned note written by my birth parents. Eventually, I was discovered, the authorities were called, and I was taken to an orphanage because the police could find no one to claim me. I believe my birth parents gave me up out of love. They believed somebody else could provide me with a better life. My birth parents gave me a fighting chance and a new start.

In 1999, after several years of paperwork and waiting, an American couple traveled 7,233 miles from Arlington, Virginia to China to adopt their new daughter. I am told I met my adoptive parents, looked each one directly in the eye, and relaxed into their embrace. A week later, my parents took the long flight back with a new baby in tow. I left behind parents that gave me life, a country that did not want me, and was embraced by love that gave me a new chance.

As I grew older, I found my head swarming with millions of “what if” questions. What if I had stayed in China? What if my birth parents had not given me up? What would my life be like if I were in China right now? Through these unanswered questions I discovered what the American Dream means to me.

When my parents brought me over the threshold of their American home I began living my American Dream, although for many years I never related my story to the American Dream. I was often told that immigrants came by airplane, boat, train, and foot to America to begin a new life. America was a beacon of hope and a safe haven for people fleeing persecution, war, and discrimination. I found it hard to relate my story to the numerous stories I heard about in school and on the news. I had a hard time identifying as an immigrant or a first generation child. I knew I was granted American citizenship as part of the adoption process, but I did not perceive the American Dream as an extension of my own hopes and dreams, and now I do.

I realize the American Dream has been pumping through my veins since the day I came to America. The American Dream marked the beginning of my new life and initiation as an American citizen. In America, the sexism that forced Chinese parents to abandon their daughters does not hang in the air. Young girls are allowed to get the same education and play the same sports as boys. Girls have the same opportunities.

Girls work hard in school and have dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, scientists, and engineers. American girls are strong, determined, hardworking, and independent. They are fully supported by parents, friends, teachers, and an entire nation to dream big, work hard, and accomplish their dreams.

My American Dream embodies the belief that anyone, regardless of sex, can have a successful and fulfilling life through hard work. Every day I work hard; I always want to be the best, whether it is at home, school, work, or sports. I constantly push myself to go the extra mile and to get up after every fall. I work hard because I remember where my journey started, a baby girl in a box with a dim future. In America, I want to create the life I never would have had in China, the accomplished and happy life my birth parents and adoptive parents wish for me to have.

The American Dream still thrives in greater Washington. The dream of working hard toward a better life burns strong in many people. However, not everyone is granted with equal opportunities to achieve his or her American Dream.

This year I conducted a science experiment featuring the Washington, D.C. region. It illuminated the unequal opportunities people in greater Washington face. In my experiment, I tested whether there was a correlation between bacteria on lettuce sold in grocery stores and neighborhood’s socioeconomic status. I discovered lettuce from low socioeconomic areas contained more bacteria than lettuce from high socioeconomic areas, indicating the lettuce was of poorer quality. My experiment revealed food inequality between low socioeconomic areas and high socioeconomic areas. Low socioeconomic areas had poorer produce quality, indicating unequal access to high quality and nutritious foods. However, these disparities are not limited to food. Unequal opportunity plagues numerous areas, including physical safety, quality of education, employment opportunity, availability of recreation and access to internships, extracurricular activities, and government services. All these opportunities put a person one step closer to achieving his or her dream. Without opportunity, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, to achieve the American Dream. The Dream remains a dream and does not become a reality.

The question of offering opportunity to those who are deprived has long been debated on Capitol Hill. If Americans have the drive and consistency to achieve the American Dream, but lack the opportunities to do so, who should provide those opportunities? Some people believe it is the government’s duty to create opportunities for those in need, so that more people can create a better life for themselves. Others point to the countless times the American Dream has been achieved by remarkable individuals who faced extreme poverty, discrimination, and inequality on their journey to a brand new life. They debate how the government can best provide opportunity. Should government get out of the way, and allow each person to achieve on his own? Should government regulate and provide aid to help disadvantaged people? Does government aid lessen the individual value of accomplishing the American Dream? Can government provide equal opportunity?

The fact that this debate has continued since the founding of our country shows us that the American Dream is thriving. The Declaration of Independence states that everyone is endowed with “certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The American Dream is deeply rooted in the birth of this nation. It drove the forefathers to create a place where people have the freedom and opportunity to create a better life for themselves.

The American Dream is a drive that exists in all Americans. It is a strong force propelling people to break free of the chains that bind them to an unwanted life. In order to keep the American Dream alive this nation must support the dreams of all its citizens and provide them with the opportunity to achieve their dreams.