What does the American Dream mean to you?

It has been 10 days since my very first steps in Missoula. This journey has been becoming a series of many for-the-first-time experiences in my life. After nearly 40 hours with 4 connecting fights, we, the Vietnamese fellows arrived Missoula at midnight of May 27th. In contrast to the windy, dry and cold weather of Missoula was a very warm smile of Deena Mansour, the associate director of Mansfield Center at the airport. In this spring, the program also welcomed many other fellows from Laos, Cambodia, Thai Lan, Myanmar. That was a very great opportunity for us to see the US as well as learn from each other.

“Hi, how are you today?”
That is the question but also a greeting that I heard the most for the previous ten days. If you have never been to Missoula, you may not able to imagine how friendly the Missoulian is. This nice greeting etiquette took me a few days to be familiar with. In this small city, you can easily find a sincere smile from the receptionist or the shop keeper or the waiter and even a strange student in UM (University of Montana). Believe it or not, these smiles will definitely make your day.

What make American Dream?
Yes, the first 10 days of 5 weeks journey has already answered my question. My very first experience with Missoula community was the visit to an American Vietnamese – Laotian family. Shu Shu and Tuyen Pham immigrated to the US in the last century. They welcome us to their cozy home with delicious Vietnamese-Laotian cuisines and touching stories of their long journey to Missoula. For the first time, I met and talked with living witness of the history which I used to read a lot about in my home country. I am not sure that we can understand thoroughly their story but I am sure that we’ve already learned a lot from that. Now, their big family is an important part of Missoula community.

The second remarkable experience of mine for the previous ten day was a visit to Flathead Indian Reservation where thousands of Native American are living. We met and discussed with the head of Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on tribal history as well as the future that relating socioeconomic development issues. As a class in Salish Kootenai College named “Living in two worlds”, the tribal community are working very hard for a future of prosperity and sustainability.

Perhaps, the main characteristic which create an American Dream is inclusive society. In that society, there are Good Will, YWCA that fight for women’s right, there’s a Food Bank that work to end hunger, there’s a tribal college to maintain and preserve cultural values of Native American. The big sky Missoula is also a sky for dreams, where there’s no differences of race, gender, religion, as well as ensure equality of opportunity for everyone.

Today, my “the American Dream” is simply riding a bike to university, lying on grass with a book as an US student. And my dream come true. Tomorrow, beside waking up and starting my day by saying “Hi, how are you today?”, I’ll also ask you “What does the American Dream mean to you?”.

Viet Nguyen

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