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"The Land of the American Dream"

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Vianny Rivera Torres
  • 509th Bomb Wing

As I took my first steps onto the plane, I was instantly filled with uncertainty.

Leaving Puerto Rico, a small island in the Caribbean, the only place I’d ever called home, for what the people called “The Land of the American Dream” was by far the scariest moment of my life. I didn’t know how to handle it, especially at only eleven years old.

Between the excitement and fear, I was overwhelmed with emotions, so I took a leap of faith and just hoped for the best.

I did not know how much my world was about to change.

The language and customs are vastly different compared to Puerto Rico. It was here that I first experienced a fast-paced life that I was unaccustomed to.

I also saw my mother work tirelessly through the transition. She was often away from home, working hard to provide for us as a single parent of four.

To be honest, I resented it for a while, however, as I grew, I started to appreciate her and admire her work ethic. Looking back now, I see both the strength and beauty that she exemplified so flawlessly.

Although I continued to view Puerto Rico as my beautiful island, time and distance began to make it feel smaller.

Growing up, I encountered many distinct cultures and people that widened my perspective and world view. My eyes grew wide and shiny, and I stood amazed at the diversity.

I thought to myself, “How amazing to see all these people living in a foreign country and continuing to carry their cultures with them proudly.”

It helped me realize that I did not have to lose my traditions, values, and culture to fit in.

Although English is spoken some Puerto Rico, it was completely unknown to me. It was stressful trying to learn a new language that I wasn’t confident in, including the mannerisms found in American discourse. I began to pick up on the conversations of my peers little by little.

Learning English made my happy, but at the same time was beginning to understand the language, I was introduced to a world full of prejudice and division. Being called “the Spanish girl” or hearing racial slurs directed at me became a daily occurrence.

After a while, I began to tune out all their voices and decided to try to gain their respect.

I became more competitive and diligent with my studies. I got involved with multiple activities and got a job at sixteen years old. I was proud of myself; however, it also came with a lot of pressure to meet the expectations of my role models.

At the time, I took inspiration from it, but it caused me to be unable to enjoy my teenage years as much as many of my peers did.

I graduated with honors at the top of my high school class and decided to join the World’s Greatest Air Force. Not only did it make my mother proud, it also filled me with a sense of pride.

I look back at where I started versus where I am now, and I still can’t believe I’ve accomplished so much.

When I arrived, I was afraid and didn’t understand people’s fascination with this country, but I understand now.

This country gave me a chance to become much more than I ever would have imagined when I was on my small island. Puerto Rico will always be my home and forever in my heart, but here is where I grew new roots and found a second home.

A home gives you the opportunity to grow and pursue your goals and aspirations.

Now, I can not only say that I understand the meaning of the phrase “The Land of the American Dream.” but I can also say that I live it.