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Savage Journey to the American Dream

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April 19, 2012

Rick Ross has a fascinating habit of signing rappers with infinitely less charisma and presence than himself. How else to explain his attraction to workhorses like Stalley ? The talented but decidedly dazzle-averse Ohio rapper traffics in straight-ahead sincerity, rapping entirely in pained, vague clichés about making it through struggles, staying free of temptation, and striving for success. He has built up a dedicated fanbase with the same kind of dauntless diligence required to run for city alderman, and displays an equal level of magnetism. Ross collects these guys: Wale , Pill , now Stalley. He reupholstered Wale into a strip-club rapper and dropped Pill. What he's going to do with Stalley remains to be seen, but if this lushly appointed new mixtape is any indication, Stalley's having his moment in the boss' favor.

Stalley's alliance with Ross makes for an interestingly muddled listening experience. Stalley has cut himself out as struggling everyman, but here he's rapping on behalf of an imprint named for a high-end car line so prohibitively expensive that it actually went out of business  because so few could afford it. He tries to justify this dissonance on a song called, of all things, "Island Hopping": "I was underground then, still underground now/ Difference is I'm under palm trees, not trying to be found," he insists. Besides the fact that the line is nonsensical, it falls prey to what I call rap's "Stillmatic Rule": the minute a rapper has to claim they're "still" something, they're obviously no longer that thing.

The production is where Stalley's Intelligent Bass Music  most clearly meets up with his boss'  Maybach Music . He has always relied on beats to do all the melodramatic work his small, boyish voice can't do, and here, he leans heavily on the work of the Huntsville duo Block Beattaz , who have spent years draping the humble, blue-collar sentiments of G-Side in 6,000 astral planes of glimmering synths. They provide the same sonic transformation here, deploying an arsenal of rippling harps and orchestral presets to lend weight to Stalley's abstracted musings. Their "Petrin Hill Peonies" starts with a straight chop of a gritty soul song by Charles Bradley , a James Brown impersonator-turned-belter signed to Daptone, before they smear the vibe with low, pummeling drums that move the track to woozier, druggier places. "Route 21" outfits Stalley in a sumptuous orchestral reimagining of Jay-Z's "Imaginary Player". Stalley picks judiciously from other producers, too: "Everything New" invites Chad Hugo, aka The Half of the Neptunes You Forgot Existed, to remind us of his brain-puncturing way with a Korg. As a collection of beats, this mixtape is impeccable.

As a rapper, however, Stalley is a pretty reliable momentum-douser. He likes to dangle his rhymes just over the bar lines, like he's got one lazy leg draped over the track, but his voice carries the strained urgency of a baby Freeway. Pair this with his tendency to willfully mix up his gangsta-rap stock imagery (women are gold diggers, he will shoot you if pushed) with conscious-rap boilerplate (like Big K.R.I.T. , Stalley's songs are full of nameless supporters thanking him for saving hip-hop, begging him not to lose his soul in the Big Old World), and you have one confused non-persona. His best moments are small, plainspoken observations that sound like they come from a singular, careful mind: "I keep my circle small, so I'm hard to leech from," he tells us on "Hammers and Vogues" . Occasionally he roams across a nice image, but he has a distressing tendency to rattle off entire 32-bar verses without once pricking up your ears. Savage Journey ends with the song off of Rick Ross'  Rich Forever mixtape that featured Stalley prominently, the left-field electro-rap jam "Party Heart", produced by Chuck Ingrish. It's one of this tape's more arresting moments, but on Rich Forever , it stopped the momentum dead. The contrast is telling.

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savage journey to the american dream

Savage Journey To The American Dream

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Stalley Massillon, Ohio

Stalley has worked with producers Ski Beatz on tracks “Address”, “S.T.A.L.L.E.Y.”, “Do It Big”, “Harsh Ave”, Rashad Thomas on album Lincoln Way Nights, and J. Rawls on track “Babblin”. He is featured on Curren$y’s Universal/Def Jam album Pilot Talk (featured on “Address”), released in June 2010. Stalley is also featured on Warner Bros. / Maybach Music Group album MMG Presents: Self Made, Vol 2. ...   more

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Premiere: Stalley "Savage Journey To The American Dream" Tracklist

The lineup on this project looks stellar.

Image via Complex Original

Not Available Lead

Stalley already revealed some of the features from his upcoming mixtape,  Savage Journey To The American Dream , but not all of them. With production mainly handled by The Block Beattaz , Stalley 's newest project will keep it in the MMG family, as the likes of Rick Ross, Wale and Meek Mill make guest appearances. Other artists blessing the tape with bars include Curren$y and Anthony Flammia .

The project has also been mixed by Young Guru to give it that crisp sound once it hits your speakers. Check out the tracklist to the opus below.

1. Savage Journey (Prod by The Block Beattaz) 2. Petrin Hill Peonies (Prod by The Block Beattaz) 3. Route 21 (Prod by The Block Beattaz) 4. Hammers and Vogues f/ Curren$y (Prod by The Block Beattaz) 5. Lover’s Lane f/ Anthony Flammia (Prod by The Block Beattaz) 6. Home To You f/ Wale & Anthony Flammia (Prod by The Block Beattaz) 7. Island Hopping f/ Avriel Epps (Prod by The Block Beattaz) 8. Cold (Prod by The Block Beattaz) 9. Everything New (Prod by Chad Hugo) 10. Seen It All (Prod by Soundtrakk) 11. Hell's Angels (American Heathens) f/ Rick Ross (Prod by The Block Beattaz) 12. Live At Blossom (Prod By Soundtrakk) 13. BCGMMG Remix f/ Rick Ross & Meek Mill (Prod by The Block Beattaz) Bonus: Party Heart f/ Rick Ross & 2Chainz (Prod. by Chuck Inglish)

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Savage Journey to the American Dream

March 30, 2012 14 Songs, 56 minutes ℗ 2012 Blue Collar Gang

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

By Hunter S. Thompson

Hunter S. Thompson

W e were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs began to take hold. I remember saying something like “I feel a bit lightheaded; maybe you should drive. …” And suddenly there was a terrible roar all around us and the sky was full of what looked like huge bats, all swooping and screeching and diving around the car, which was going about 100 miles an hour with the top down to Las Vegas. And a voice was screaming: “Holy Jesus! What are these goddamn animals?”

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail

Then it was quiet again. My attorney had taken his shirt off and was pouring beer on his chest, to facilitate the tanning process. “What the hell are you yelling about?” he muttered, staring up at the sun with his eyes closed and covered with wraparound Spanish sunglasses. “Never mind,” I said. “It’s your turn to drive.” I hit the brakes and aimed the Great Red Shark toward the shoulder of the highway. No point mentioning those bats, I thought. The poor bastard will see them soon enough.

It was almost noon, and we still had more than 100 miles to go. They would be tough miles. Very soon, I knew, we would both be completely twisted. But there was no going back, and no time to rest. We would have to ride it out. Press registration for the fabulous Mint 400 was already underway, and we had to get there by four to claim our soundproof suite. A fashionable sporting magazine in New York had taken care of the reservations, along with this huge red Chevy convertible we’d just rented off a lot on the Sunset Strip … and I was, after all, a professional journalist; so I had an obligation to cover the story, for good or ill.

The sporting editors had also given me $300 in cash, most of which was already spent on extremely dangerous drugs. The trunk of the car looked like a mobile police narcotics lab. We had two bags of grass, 75 pellets of mescaline, five sheets of high-powered blotter acid, a salt shaker half full of cocaine, and a whole galaxy of multi-colored uppers, downers, screamers, laughers … and also a quart of tequila, a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw ether and two dozen amyls.

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Every awful thing trump has promised to do in a second term, the 250 greatest guitarists of all time, the 500 greatest albums of all time, the 50 worst decisions in movie history.

All this had been rounded up the night before, in a frenzy of high-speed driving all over Los Angeles County – from Topanga to Watts, we picked up everything we could get our hands on. Not that we needed all that for the trip, but once you get locked into a serious drug collection, the tendency is to push it as far as you can.

The only thing that really worried me was the ether. There is nothing in the world more helpless and irresponsible and depraved than a man in the depths of an ether binge. And I knew we’d get into that rotten stuff pretty soon. Probably at the next gas station. We had sampled almost everything else, and now – yes, it was time for a long snort of ether. And then do the next 100 miles in a horrible, slobbering sort of spastic stupor. The only way to keep alert on ether is to do up a lot of amyls – not all at once, but steadily, just enough to maintain the focus at 90 miles an hour through Barstow.

“Man, this is the way to travel,” said my attorney. He leaned over to turn the volume up on the radio, humming along with the rhythm section and kind of moaning the words: “One toke over the line … Sweet Jesus … One toke over the line …”

One toke? You poor fool! Wait till you see those goddamn bats. I could barely hear the radio … slumped over on the far side of the seat, grappling with a tape recorder turned all the way up on “Sympathy for the Devil.” That was the only tape we had, so we played it constantly, over and over, as a kind of demented counterpoint to the radio. And also to maintain our rhythm on the road. A constant speed is good for gas mileage – and for some reason that seemed important at the time. Indeed. On a trip like this one must be careful about gas consumption. Avoid those quick bursts of acceleration that drag blood to the back of the brain.

My attorney saw the hitchhiker long before I did. “Let’s give this boy a lift,” he said, and before I could mount any argument he was stopped and this poor Okie kid was running up to the car with a big grin on his face, saying, “Hot damn! I never rode in a convertible before!”

“Is that right?” I said. “Well, I guess you’re about ready, eh?”

The kid nodded eagerly as we roared off.

“We’re your friends,” said my attorney. “We’re not like the others.”

O Christ, I thought, he’s gone around the bend. “No more of that talk,” I said sharply. “Or I’ll put the leeches on you.” He grinned, seeming to understand. Luckily, the noise in the car was so awful – between the wind and the radio and the tape machine – that the kid in the back seat couldn’t hear a word we were saying. Or could he?

The Real-Life Rebels Behind ‘The Bikeriders’

Hear tim robbins as hunter s. thompson in dramatized reading of 'on our way back to the motel', fear and loathing in las vegas cover tee.

savage journey to the american dream

Hunter S. Thompson wrote “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” in 1971, and it solidified his brand of Gonzo journalism that became his trademark. This iconic cover features an illustration by Ralph Steadman, which forever linked him with Thompson in the minds of readers. “He had a devil in him,” Steadman said of the journalist. “And it excited the devil in me.”

Buy Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Cover Tee $40

How long can we maintain? I wondered. How long before one of us starts raving and jabbering at this boy? What will he think then? This same lonely desert was the last known home of the Manson family. Will he make that grim connection when my attorney starts screaming about bats and huge manta rays coming down on the car? If so – well, we’ll just have to cut his head off and bury him somewhere. Because it goes without saying that we can’t turn him loose. He’ll report us at once to some kind of outback nazi law enforcement agency, and they’ll run us down like dogs.

Jesus! Did I say that? Or just think it? Was I talking? Did they hear me? I glanced over at my attorney, but he seemed oblivious – watching the road, driving our Great Red Shark along at a hundred and ten or so. There was no sound from the back seat.

Maybe I’d better have a chat with this boy, I thought. Perhaps if I explain things, he’ll rest easy.

Of course. I leaned around in the seat and gave him a fine big smile … admiring the shape of his skull.

“By the way,” I said. “There’s one thing you should probably understand.”

He stared at me, not blinking. Was he gritting his teeth?

“Can you hear me?” I yelled.

“That’s good,” I said. “Because I want you to know that we’re on our way to Las Vegas to find the American Dream.” I smiled. “That’s why we rented this car. It was the only way to do it. Can you grasp that?”

He nodded again, but his eyes were nervous.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas , Page 1 of 19

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Stalley "Savage Journey To The American Dream" Tracklist

Stalley has announced that his upcoming project Savage Journey to the American Dream  is set for release on March 30th.

The Maybach Music Group rapper promised to unveil the release date upon reaching 50,000 followers on Twitter. To commemorate the milestone, he has released several cuts as part of his “Songs By Me” series, most recently dropping “Trap Money” and “Blue Sky.”

Of the project, Stalley previously said that it conveys his maturity as an artist. “It’s definitely a growth and a new sound from the last project,” he explained. “It’s my personal journey [to success] and it’s a savage one. It’s my personal journey in the pursuit of the American dream. I’m just trying to find the American dream, so to say. A lot of people as individuals, we all have our own definition of what the American dream is to use. I could be living my American dream, I’m not sure, but I’m still on the grind and on the hunt for it, going out and getting everything that I feel I deserve.”

Listen to his latest song “Trap Money,” produced by Bennyhaze, below (via SoulCulture ).

@Stalley Stalley “Savage Journey To The American Dream” 3-30-12 Mar 02 via web Favorite Retweet Reply

UPDATE:  The cover art for Stalley’s Savage Journey to the American Dream  has been revealed.

UPDATE #2: Complex has premiered the tracklist for Stalley’s Savage Journey to the American Dream .

RELATED: Stalley Speaks On The State Of Ohio Finally Being Recognized In Hip Hop

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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream

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Ralph Steadman

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream Kindle Edition

  • Print length 93 pages
  • Language English
  • Sticky notes On Kindle Scribe
  • Publisher Vintage
  • Publication date July 23, 2010
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Though somewhat dated (it appeared serially in Rolling Stone throughout November 1971), Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is a book of real vitality and Rabelaisian wit. A document of the counterculture after it was well past ripe and deep into rot, the book is a wild ride, a paranoid ramble that is thoroughly exhilarating and worth the trip. No pun intended.

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  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Vintage; 2nd edition (July 23, 2010)
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Hunter s. thompson.

Hunter S. Thompson is incomparably the most celebrated exponent of the New Journalism. His books include Hell's Angels, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72 and Generation of Swine.

Ralph Steadman

Ralph Steadman (born 15 May 1936) is a British artist best known for his work with American author Hunter S. Thompson.

Bio from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Photo by Dave [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.

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Customers find the humor very funny and shocking. They also describe the storyline as amazing and simple. Readers appreciate the illustrations as amazing. They describe the pacing as fast. Opinions are mixed on the content, with some finding it insightful and gonzo journalism at its finest, while others find it boring and like a diary of a madman. Reader opinions are mixed also on the writing style, with customers finding it well-written and relatively fast-paced, while other find it hard to follow.

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Customers find the humor in the book very funny, entertaining, and unique. They also say the author is incredibly interesting and raunchy. Readers also mention the book has twists and turns and bizarre events at every turn.

"... Thompson was raunchy and hilarious, intelligent, endlessly passionate, moral, angry at the squares, and his writing "had balls"..." Read more

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"...The book itself is fantastic - Hunter S. Thompson was an incredibly interesting author & his unconventional style of writing is deep, yet easy to..." Read more

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Customers find the storyline amazing, intense, original, and shocking. They also say the happenings are believable and a definite broadening of horizons.

"...Thompson was raunchy and hilarious, intelligent, endlessly passionate , moral, angry at the squares, and his writing "had balls"..." Read more

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"...While it was funny and poignant , I give this book 4 stars because it could have been better...." Read more

"...The characters are superficial losers. The story lacks a significant theme . Most of the events that occur are dull and duds...." Read more

Customers find the illustrations in the book amazing, perfect, and capture the good, bad, ugly, weird, and ridiculousness of Las Vegas in the early 1970s. They also say the writing is sharp, lucid, and entertaining.

"...I find it perfectly realistic . When confronted with crazy behavior, people tend to react in a number of ways...." Read more

"...This is unfortunate because his writing was so sharp, lucid , and entertaining and far surpasses his bad boy reputation...." Read more

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"...Thompson writes-- quite beautifully I might add--about the "high water mark" of the movement and what it may (or may not) have meant...." Read more

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"...Hilarious, irreverent, fast-paced . Did I say hilarious?Not sure I could’ve taken Thompson in heavy doses, but man could the guy write!" Read more

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The death of the American Dream birthed Trumpism

"though trumpism is ten times more terrifying than reaganism, they share the same dna", by chauncey devega.

The United States is the richest country in the world. But that statistic camouflages the more complex truth that the United States has a relatively small number of rich people and a much larger number of poor and working poor people. The average income for the top twenty percent of the population in 2022 was approximately $278,000. The average family income for the bottom 20 percent of the population was approximately $16,000.

When the income data is examined on a more granular level the divides between the poor, the working class, and the wealthy become even starker. The top 5 percent of individual earners had an average income of almost $336,000 in 2021. The same year, the top 1 percent had an average income of almost $820,000. The top .1% earned an average amount of approximately 3.3 million dollars.

Wealth is a much more revealing indicator of how extreme the levels of economic and social inequality really are in the United States.  The top 1 percent of income earners now control approximately 26 percent of the country’s wealth . That amount of wealth is more than that owned by the entire American middle class. The poorest Americans by income (the bottom 20 percent) control only 3 percent of the country’s wealth.

Contrary to America’s dominant cultural myths about “bootstraps," wealth and income are selectively created (and in many ways directly subsidized) by the state through tax policy and other measures. To wit,  Americans in the top 20 percent of income generally receive a much larger return from the federal government in terms of subsidies, credits, and other benefits than the amount of taxes they pay. Political scientist Suzanne Mettler has compelling described these benefits as “the submerged state” , i.e. “welfare for rich people." 

America’s elites (and especially the news media) love to tout the stock market as a barometer for the country’s economic health and prosperity. But that data is misleading: The top 1 percent of richest Americans by wealth control some 54% percent of stocks and mutual funds . Here, the American financier class benefits from the tax and other economic policies that they literally write, which are in turn passed by Congress and the president (who are also members of the financial elite).

In total, there is a set of perverse incentives built into this version of late-stage American capitalism, where private actors and other predatory gangster capitalists profit from the country’s extreme levels of wealth and income inequality — and are therefore incentivized to perpetuate such an unfair and ultimately anti-democratic system.

In her new book “Poverty for Profit”, lawyer and public policy expert Anne Kim documents this system and how it disproportionately targets Black and Brown communities. She is also a contributing editor at Washington Monthly, where she was a senior writer. 

In this conversation, Kim shows how predatory capitalism is preying on under-resourced black and brown communities and documents its real human cost. At the end of this conversation Kim, warns that the country’s extreme income inequality and the death of the American Dream are directly tied to the rise of Trumpism and the country’s democracy crisis.

This is the second part of a two-part conversation .

How does your research intervene against the many organizing myths of American society such as “individualism” and “meritocracy”?

There’s a huge body of work that pushes against these myths by illuminating the structural limitations so many Americans face. I aim to add one more dimension to this argument, by showing how the corporatization of poverty helps to perpetuate systemic disadvantage.

Of course, personal choices matter. But for too many people, these “choices” are limited or non-existent, or dictated by the industries that colonize low-income communities. Many people don’t have access to affordable healthy food, for instance, because dollar stores and bodegas control the food choices available in their neighborhoods. “Willpower” can’t overcome a diet where the only available options are ultra-processed foods high in fat and sodium – like much of what’s served in school lunches to poor children. Pizza Hut, for example, offers what it calls its “A+ Pizza Program” for school cafeterias. The company says its pizza crusts are made with “51 percent white whole wheat flour” to comply with federal nutrition standards for the National School Lunch Program.

“Personal responsibility” is a myth when the poverty industry controls the choices you have.

Which of the human stories – here I will use the language of tragedies and traps – struck you the hardest in researching and writing the book?

The person whose story has stayed with me the longest is Rafiq, a young man I met in Baltimore who was literally in the wrong place at the wrong time.  He was walking past a house in the middle of a raid and got picked up on basically trumped-up charges with no evidence. His lawyer said the jury acquitted him in less than half an hour.

By all rights, he should have been able to put this ordeal behind him. Instead, he owed his bail bondsman thousands of dollars because – it turns out – the “premium” that bondsmen charge for bail is non-refundable. It doesn’t matter if you get acquitted or the charges are dropped, the bondsman gets his money. So, Rafiq was in debt for an arrest that should never have happened, and in a system that not only punishes defendants for being poor but facilitates their exploitation by a predatory industry.

The moneyed classes and the corporatocracy privatize their gains and profits and externalize their losses.

In the context of the poverty industry, the profits businesses make exact a terrible toll on the people they purport to “serve.” The hundreds of dollars someone pays a tax preparer, for instance, means hundreds of dollars not spent on food or rent or to pay down debt. But it’s not like the tax prep industry will be held to account for the hunger a family might face because of their practices.

Ditto for bail bondsmen. In the case of Rafiq, whom I mentioned above, the debt he owes the bail bondsman was guaranteed by his mom, whose financial security was also put in jeopardy. Rafiq also has a family, which means the money going toward his unjust debt was money that wasn’t going toward diapers or baby food for his young daughter. But I doubt the bail bondsman feels any responsibility for the trauma he’s caused for Rafiq’s family.

“Poverty for Profit” is really a model of capitalism gone wrong – or is it precisely capitalism and markets and private interests working exactly as designed in the neoliberal regime and gangster capitalism?

I’m not anti-business. I respect business, and I admire the innovation and creativity of entrepreneurs. But I also think there are some realms that businesses just are not suited for, and that includes human services. I just don’t think that the motive for profit aligns very well with poverty reduction. Investing in human potential is expensive , the returns take a long time to accrue, and the results can’t always be measured in dollars. There have been some well-meaning efforts to “do well by doing good,” but as I mention in the book, those haven’t really panned out either.

How do you imagine that libertarians and other members of the right-wing (and yes, the corporate Democrats) who worship at the mantle of the “free market” and the neoliberal regime would respond to your book?

They’d dismiss it as liberal bellyaching about a problem they’d argue doesn’t exist. They’d say that government-run programs would be ten times less efficient than privatized ones, and they’d trot out extreme examples of government “waste” to prove their point, like the $600 hammer for the Pentagon that actually never existed .

They’d also argue that anti-poverty programs aren’t tough enough in demanding “personal responsibility” from poor Americans. That’s why they want draconian work requirements in every safety net program, including Medicaid, even though the research is clear that work requirements don’t do anything other than deprive people of the benefits they need. Some conservatives would be perfectly content for the government to have no role in poverty reduction – which means they’d likely applaud and even encourage the activities of the poverty industry.

Is Milton Friedman smiling or disgusted at the findings of your new book?

Actually, I think he’d be shrugging his shoulders with a big “so what?”

In a 1970 essay for the New York Times, Friedman wrote that “there is one and only one social responsibility of business—to use its resources and engage in activities designed to increase its profits.” I think he’d say that the companies engaged in the poverty industry are simply doing what they’re supposed to do. He does say companies should stay “within the rules of the game,” “in open and free competition without deception or fraud,” so perhaps he’d frown at some of the practices I’ve documented in the book. But I also think he'd be more likely to say the fraudsters are outliers, not a natural consequence of how the poverty market is structured.

There is the “Black and Brown tax”. There is also the “poverty tax” in America. What is the relationship between them?

They’re additive, and the cumulative result is a double disadvantage for Black and Brown people in poverty. The “Black and Brown tax” explains in part the massive racial wealth gap, which the Brookings Institution recently estimated to be more than $240,000 . That’s the difference in wealth between a median white household and a median Black one, and it’s the result of systemic discrimination, lower wages, unequal access to education and a host of other factors.

The “poverty tax,” on the other hand, is the additional price poor people often pay for basic services. Many low-income Americans don’t have access to mainstream banking, for example, so they rely on check cashers, pawnshops, and other players in what the government euphemistically calls the “alternative financial services industry.” I’d argue that the tax prep fees I write about in my book are also part of this “poverty tax,” as are bail bond premiums. I’d also argue that some poverty taxes are non-monetary; rather the “price” is poorer health, substandard housing and education, greater exposure to environmental toxins, the list goes on. I have no doubt people pay the poverty tax with their lives as a result.

Please explain more about how there are dentists who are exploiting the poor. That is dystopian. 

Many mainstream dentists don’t treat patients on Medicaid, which created a market for some dentists and dental chains to specialize in these patients (mostly kids). These dentists then also realized they can make a ton of money on volume, because Medicaid pays by the procedure. The result has been a booming Medicaid dental industry that’s seen an outsized number of reported abuses by dentists and dental franchises performing unnecessary work to collect Medicaid dollars.

In one instance I wrote about, a North Carolina dentist reportedly performed 17 root canals on a three-year-old and was ordered to pay $10 million in penalties. In another case, a dental chain called Benevis agreed to pay $23.9 million to settle claims of Medicaid fraud brought by federal prosecutors. Some of these clinics have moreover been accused of using “ papoose boards ” to immobilize children for multiple procedures. The state of Colorado ended up banning papoose boards because of reported abuses involving Medicaid dental practices.

We need your help to stay independent

No doubt the vast majority of Medicaid dentists provide good quality care, so I’m not trying to tar and feather everyone. On the other hand, things have been bad enough that the U.S. senate held hearings on the damage done by  “corporate dentistry.”

There are also dialysis centers in the strip malls in poor communities where there are also dollar stores, check cashing businesses and tax return places. Again, this is like something out of the films “Idiocracy”, “Brazil” or something in a David Cronenberg film.

The “consumer” experience of living in a low-income community is nothing like the experience of people in the middle class and above. You get the feeling that everyone’s not so much a customer to be served than a potential target for exploitation. Instead of a Pottery Barn, you’ve got the rent-to-own store with crappy furniture at usurious rental rates. Instead of a Citibank, you’ve got a pawnshop.

District Heights, Maryland is one of several predominantly Black communities just across the river from D.C., minutes away from the U.S. Capitol. If you drive to the main crossroads in the area, at the intersection of Pennsylvania Ave. and Silver Hill Road, you’ll see a huge dialysis center and a drive-through liquor store, literally right next to each other facing traffic. That’s what you see sitting at the stoplight, and it tells you a lot about the quality of life for many in this community.

And if you go to Penn Station, which is one of the shopping centers nearby, you’ll find two more dialysis centers, and then a third one across the street. There are also a couple dollar stores,  a cash advance and check cashing place, another liquor store, a rent-to-own furniture outlet, and a discount clothing store. Down the road off Silver Hill, there are two pawnshops within about a block of each other.  There are, at least, several grocery stores nearby, which means the area isn’t also a “food desert.” According to the USDA, more than 39 million Americans live in low-income areas with limited access to supermarkets, many of which are disproportionately located in Black communities.

It's hard to overstate how huge the gaps have become in the amount of savings and wealth held by America’s wealthiest families versus households at the bottom. According to the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances , the median net worth of families in the bottom 20 percent by income was $14,000 in 2022 – compared to $2.56 million for families in the top 10 percent. People in the bottom half of the income distribution had an average of $54,700 saved up for their retirement – compared to $913,300 for those in the top 10 percent. The racial wealth gap is also appallingly vast. According to the Federal Reserve, the typical Black family’s wealth equals just 15 percent of the wealth held by a typical White household.

How do you want people to feel after reading your book? More importantly, what do you want them to do?

One of the reviews for my book called it “ rage-inducing ,” and more than one person has told me they’ve gotten progressively angrier with each chapter they’ve read.  The book isn’t, however, just a catalog of outrages, and I’m hoping that even if people end up angry, they also end up understanding how we got to where we are. I can’t tell people how to vote, but I think it’s pretty clear who’s responsible for the current state of public policy. I’d like people to use their voice and to use their vote.

America’s right-wing has become so odious that many people, including many progressives, are feeling practically nostalgic for Reagan-era conservatism. I totally get that – Reagan was no insurrectionist, at least!  But it’s crucial not to lose sight of just how destructive Reagan-era conservatism has been, especially for US social policy and how America treats its poor.

Reagan racialized poverty like no other politician before him. He popularized the idea of “ welfare queen s ” sponging off government while living in luxury. His administration also presided over massive cuts to social programs while at the same time providing tax cuts to the rich that ballooned the federal deficit.  And as I write about in the book, he worked aggressively to outsource huge chunks of the government to the private sector, including social services. That’s why we have multi-billion-dollar corporations running state welfare and Medicaid programs and making enormously consequential decisions about access to benefits and people’s well-being. Reagan’s optimistic “Morning in America” image sugarcoated an ideology that was really quite cruel.

I know many progressives, and young progressives in particular, are disappointed by what the Obama and Biden presidencies failed to achieve and are thinking of sitting it out this fall. But is Trump 2.0 really what they’d prefer?  Though Trumpism is ten times more terrifying than Reaganism, they share the same DNA. That’s why Trump wanted work requirements in Medicaid and has no compassion for migrants seeking asylum. He’s beholden to billionaires and elevates white nationalists. His overtures to Black and Hispanic voters aren’t just clumsy – they’re sickeningly hypocritical.

What President Biden called the fight for the “soul of the country” has been going on for 40 years and it culminates this fall. Not to vote is to vote; let’s not lose the battle now.

about this topic

  • The upper class has trouble reading other people's emotional states, study says
  • The health gap: The rich enjoy ten more years of good health compared to poor
  • Trump is conditioning MAGA for the next stage

Chauncey DeVega is a senior politics writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at  Chaunceydevega.com . He also hosts a weekly podcast,  The Chauncey DeVega Show . Chauncey can be followed on  Twitter  and  Facebook .

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savage journey to the american dream

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Six immigrant stories tell the promises and pitfalls of the American dream

  • Deep Read ( 15 Min. )
  • By Sarah Matusek Staff writer

July 3, 2024 | Reporting from Colorado, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Alabama, and Utah

Munib Zuhoori was hungry to learn English as a teenager in Kabul, Afghanistan. He scavenged imported mango crates along the road, which used foreign newspapers to pad the fruit. With the help of a dictionary, he used them to teach himself English.

When the American military and other workers arrived after 9/11, his self-taught skills landed him work as an interpreter. Today, Mr. Zuhoori holds a Special Immigrant Visa because of his work for the American government. He lives in a Pittsburgh suburb, working as a refugee case manager. He is often the first face fellow Afghans see when they arrive.

Why We Wrote This

America is often called “a nation of immigrants.” On the national July Fourth holiday, we share stories of those who experienced the yearnings behind the idea of the American dream.

The idea of the American dream has been woven into the country’s self-understanding. It is a national myth that expresses part of the country’s deepest values about class mobility, the value of hard work, and the promise that here, in the United States, owning a home or a business is a real possibility like nowhere else.

The country has not always lived up to this ideal. Many have long felt uneasy about immigrants, especially those arriving across the U.S. southern border today.

Despite this ambivalence, Americans often refer to the country as “a nation of immigrants.”

Ahead of America’s national holiday, the Monitor interviewed six people across six states about their immigration stories – citizens, native-born and naturalized, as well as recent arrivals.

“Now, I think, this is my community. This is my home,” says Mr. Zuhoori, who also volunteers at his daughter’s school. “I’m trying to be a useful person.”

Phung Luong still loves wandering the aisles of Truong An Gifts, a sprawling shop in Denver she runs with her daughter Mimi. She likes to take the time to touch the merchandise in its carefully spaced rows of shelves, on which an array of gifts sits with all the colors of thrown confetti.

Red-and-gold firecracker decorations dangle over green stalks of bamboo. Her fingers graze a glittery hairpin, butterfly shaped, and she adjusts a couple of rabbit figurines with button noses. Happy Buddha statues laugh, bellies round and gold.

“In my heart, all the things have feeling, have life,” Ms. Luong says. “They’re happy with you. They bring you business.”

For over 40 years, the life of this refugee from Vietnam has been devoted to building small businesses. That’s a classic part of what is often called the American dream, the idea that anyone, from anywhere, can work hard and find success within the country’s rungs of wealth and homeownership. 

Ever since her childhood in Vietnam, Ms. Luong was organized. The eldest of eight children, she oversaw the budgeting and buying of food for her family. This helped prepare her as she became a determined if struggling small-business owner in America.

“You cannot go back,” Ms. Luong says. “You need to build your dream here.”

When she was a teenager, she and her family waited a few years after the 1975 fall of Saigon before they found a way to leave. Her family first fled to Hong Kong, securing passage on a boat. The young Ms. Luong clutched only what she could bring: a pillowcase of clothes – and an address in Denver.

savage journey to the american dream

Her cousin slipped her the address of a family from Colorado. It belonged to his best friend’s family, Vietnamese refugees who’d already settled in the state. Within a year, this family became Ms. Luong’s family, too. She married one of her host’s cousins, a grocery-store stocker with an ambition to match her own. 

Americans were nursing moral bruises from the Vietnam War. Ms. Luong felt alienated, unable to express herself. It was difficult to learn new ways. Even simple things, such as how burritos look like, but are not, egg rolls.

But at the same time, she worked hard. She helped her husband and his brothers run a specialized Asian grocery store. She worked as a hairstylist for a while. And then she opened a business of her own, a video store that her daughter Mimi called the “Asian Blockbuster.” Like other American business owners, she struggled after going bankrupt when business ventures didn’t work out.

But now, a naturalized citizen, Ms. Luong has become a literal part of American history. Her extended family’s small businesses eventually became an entire shopping plaza in Denver’s Little Saigon district, which they named the Far East Center. Earlier this year, the state of Colorado placed the Luong family plaza on its Register of Historic Properties, noting it has “significant cultural resources worthy of preservation.”

For decades, generations of Denver residents have stepped up to the plaza’s counters – including here at Truong An Gifts, Ms. Luong says.

“If you’re not happy, no problem,” she says. “Come to my shop.”

“A nation of immigrants”

The idea of the American Dream has been woven into the country’s self-understanding. It is a national myth that expresses part of the country’s deepest values about class mobility, the value of hard work, and the promise that here, in America, owning a home or a business is a real possibility like nowhere else. 

savage journey to the american dream

A historian popularized the phrase on the heels of the Great Depression, says Sarah Churchwell, chair of public humanities at the University of London. At first, it didn’t really connote the immigrant experience. But after World War II, many began to use “the American dream” to express the country’s economic values and contrast them with its communist rivals. 

The phrase was a “particular version of capitalist, liberal democracy as a land of opportunity ... a story about how we have always welcomed immigrants,” says Professor Churchwell. 

Of course, this Cold War narrative, she adds, dismissed a century of anti-immigrant, restrictive policies that “got written out of the popular story that we told about ourselves.” From 1875 to 1965, for example, most immigrants from Asia, people like Ms. Luong and her family, were refused entry and largely forbidden to become naturalized citizens.   

This side of American history includes the forced removal of Native American people from their lands to make way for European immigrants, as well as the forced migration of enslaved Africans. Beginning in the 19th century, immigrants from Ireland and Italy and others from the eastern parts of Europe were often met with prejudice, if not determination to stifle their efforts to build a life for their families.

The country has not always lived up to the bronze plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty – “Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Many have long felt uneasy about these huddled masses, especially those arriving across the U.S. southern border today.

Many Americans rank immigration as a top issue heading into the 2024 election. The issue feeds into white-hot partisan politics. Historically high numbers of unauthorized immigrants during the Biden administration have brought costs and safety concerns to many communities. And in an era of political polarization, the collaborative spirit needed to pass major immigration reform has eluded Congress since the 1990s.

Yet despite this ambivalence, Americans often refer to the country as “a nation of immigrants.” Today an estimated 45.3 million people in the United States were born abroad, as of 2022 estimates. That’s over an eighth of the country. More than half of these have become naturalized citizens. And according to a March poll from NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist, two-thirds of the country still views the American dream as attainable.

savage journey to the american dream

However many generations removed, many Americans still celebrate their ethnic heritage. They still tell stories of their immigrant forebears, and the sacrifices they made. How relatives arrived years, decades, or even centuries ago. How they arrived on the country’s shores and built a life their children and grandchildren and all those who came after could continue.

“The mainstream changed quite a bit because of the contributions that immigrants made,” says Tomás Jiménez, a sociology professor at Stanford University. He calls assimilation “not some kind of melding into a monolithic host society, but a process of mutual change.” 

Ahead of America’s national holiday, the Monitor interviewed six people across six states about their immigration stories – citizens, native-born and naturalized, as well as recent arrivals. As each voice attests, the pursuit of this mythic “American dream” takes time, takes trust, takes grace.

Gathering for Irish  céilí  dancing

Steve Laverty, his hair swept into a low ponytail, walks into a wood-paneled room, ready to dance. His black dress shoes have leather soles that slide just right for Irish céilí dancing. 

Every Wednesday night in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Mr. Laverty gathers at a bar with a group of friends to celebrate his heritage. He’s done it for years – a welcome respite for a few unburdened hours.

Music swells to the walls, hands hold to form a circle, and bodies spin like the ceiling fans. Laughter spills across the room as they clap in time. As their feet trot toward the center of the room, Mr. Laverty lets out a yelp of joy, for what is work without play? 

Some six decades ago, Mr. Laverty shared a room with three brothers. They each got a single dresser drawer for their clothes. “We were happy,” says Mr. Laverty, then a kid in 1960s Chicopee, Massachusetts. “We didn’t know any different.” 

But their father modeled hard work, he says. He’d work eight-hour shifts at a hand-tool factory on his feet all day. Mr. Laverty’s family arrived from Ireland four generations earlier. Growing up, Mr. Laverty says his immigrant heritage didn’t mean much to him. 

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Though he held his father’s work ethic in high esteem, he knew he didn’t want to toil away in a factory. His father, who didn’t study past high school, still earned enough to help pay for his college education. After getting a degree in mechanical engineering, he joined the Air Force and has served the government nearly ever since in national security jobs.

Still, despite his gains, he shoulders student loan debt, like an estimated 43 million Americans. But as his father did with him, he helped his own four children pay for college.

He started becoming interested in his heritage decades ago. Prompted by his wife, he searched through Ancestry.com and found cousins in Ireland. He met them there in 2007.

Moving to New Mexico soon after that, he became even more curious about his history. He witnessed how many Native Americans in the state continue to revere their own ancestral roots. “The culture has become more interesting to me as I get older,” says Mr. Laverty. He goes Irish dancing twice a week, and attends a Celtic festival every year. 

Beyond this focus on his own family history, he’s contemplated his identity in other ways. The racial justice movement that emerged from the pandemic – including protests over the killing of George Floyd – brought him a new empathy for people who may confront racism he’s never known.

“I’m white, and I think that does open doors for you that may not be available to other people,” says Mr. Laverty. “I didn’t always make a lot of money, or enough money, but I always had employment.” 

Afghan refugees find a home

Munib Zuhoori was hungry to learn English as a teenager in Kabul. At the start of the millennium, he couldn’t yet access books in the language in Afghanistan. So he scavenged imported mangoes sold in crates along the road, scanning the newspapers used for padding to learn foreign words.

He used them to teach himself English, using a dictionary he had. Then, when the American military and other workers arrived after 9/11, his self-taught skills landed him work as an interpreter. He built relationships, made connections. Mr. Zuhoori needed these connections in 2021, soon after the Americans left and the Taliban retook control, and the longest war in U.S. history came to an inglorious end.

Mr. Zuhoori recalls with rapid words his years working with the U.S. Agency for International Development. His projects focused on rule of law and elections, and the work was dangerous. He says 10 of his Afghan colleagues, including members of his family, have been killed since 2021. One of his American contacts, however, helped him, his wife, and their two daughters to fly to Qatar, and then on to the U.S.

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Mr. Zuhoori holds a Special Immigrant Visa because of his work for the American government. He now lives in a Pittsburgh suburb, working long hours as a refugee case manager at a local nonprofit. He is often the first face fellow Afghans see at the airport when they arrive. Then he retreats home to a quiet street, where deer saunter by. 

While he misses his extended family back home, his American dream is to go to law school. For now, however, that’s on pause. “I have to work; I have to pay my bills. ... I have a big responsibility,” he says in his living room. 

He worries about his children losing their Afghan heritage, even though he is eager to build a new life here. After almost three years in the U.S., one of his daughters is starting to lose her native tongue, Dari. Earlier this year, he heard his first grader, Maryam, say the word for “sky” in Dari, but the English words “star” and “moon.” To him, it was bittersweet.

Maryam sits with a folder of sketches on her lap. She displays her drawings of a rainbow and a snowman, and a picture of people in a red car. Another sketch shows two famous Americans: Mickey and Minnie Mouse.

From past smudges to present joys

Ashley Taylor Ames, when she was a baby, used to point at the bluish smudge on Grandma Betty’s arm, her grandmother says. 

Today Ms. Ames calls Grandma Betty “the most important person in my life.” The stylish millennial works as a nurse practitioner at a Manhattan cancer center and lives in New Jersey. Her grandmother still inspires her, she says, especially with her boundless emphasis on family and on always trying to be joyful. 

The smudge on Grandma Betty’s arm is a tattoo branded on her at Auschwitz.

While in the Nazi camp, Grandma Betty was tasked to sort through the luggage of arriving prisoners. It was here, too, that members of her family were sent to gas chambers to die.  

savage journey to the american dream

After the war, now a refugee from Hungary, she sought refuge in Sweden and then in the U.S., where she settled in Connecticut. She trained as a hairdresser, learned English, and raised an American family. Aromas of her paprika-spiced potatoes and matzo ball soup greeted Ms. Ames at the front door. She still visits her every couple of weeks. 

“Everything that I do is to make her proud,” she says.

Following her grandmother’s example, she tries to recast her most difficult challenges as opportunities. In 2017, for example, she was struggling as she juggled graduate school, a full-time job, and training for the New York City Marathon. Recalling her grandmother’s resilience kept her grounded.

Sometimes at work, where she wears a white-gold Star of David, she comforts patients who receive hard news. Some of her longtime patients ask for news about Grandma Betty, too, since she talks about her all the time.

The two women have had respectful generational differences over faith and feminism. Ms. Ames keeps a kosher home but will sometimes drive on Shabbat. And while she’s felt pressure from family to marry, she’s proud of who she is as a single 30-something. She’s financially independent, at peace. She’s grateful for her upper-middle-class family’s help paying for college. 

“My grandparents and my parents worked very hard to provide a good life for the next generation,” Ms. Ames says. That conjures the Hebrew phrase l’dor vador , “from one generation to the next.” 

Along with the freedom to practice her faith, that’s the spirit of the American dream, she says. 

“We want to do good for ourselves, but better for the next generation,” she says. 

Out of Sudan to a home in Alabama

Raga always had to hide two decades ago when she was a young woman in Sudan. The Janjaweed militia in her area was known for spreading terror and raping women, so when they passed through she would bury herself under clothes, blankets, or whatever she could find. 

In the early 2000s, she joined countless other Sudanese who fled to an infamous camp for displaced people in Darfur. It offered little shelter from the horrors of war.

Born in 1988, Raga, who asked to use only her first name for privacy, lived in relative peace. Her father hung a swing from a tree. Her mother made orange juice. Without electricity, the moon shone so brightly that children could play games outside at night. They’d toss a coin or a bone, something that would shine, and then see who’d find it fastest on the moon-white ground.

savage journey to the american dream

For a decade she waited in the Zamzam camp in Darfur. For seven more years she waited with her husband in Jordan. They registered with the United Nations as refugees. In 2022, an agency resettled the couple and their two young daughters in the U.S. A place called Alabama. 

They were excited when they first heard. But “when we first came, I wanted to leave,” Raga says in Arabic. She didn’t know anyone, and she was scared. 

With the help of a local resettlement agency, Inspiritus, the refugee couple secured a home and a few months of financial assistance. The nonprofit helped connect her to volunteers, and they grew into something like family, she says. When she and her husband struggled to get to the grocery store, one of their new friends gave them a gift: a used car.

The car guzzles a lot of gas, Raga says. “But we say, ‘Thank God.’” 

The weather in Sudan and Alabama, as it turns out, feels similar. The heat, the heavy rains, the lightning that cracks the sky. All the city lights in the Birmingham suburbs, though, dull the moon glow here. 

She feels happy and safe in the U.S. But once again, Raga finds herself waiting.

Learning English is a long-term goal. She dreams of opening a salon or a restaurant, but she knows that will take time. Her husband works, but their expenses outpace his modest income. She aches for her family members still in Sudan, worrying about their lack of food and medicine. She’s heartbroken that she’s unable to send them money, and that the violence endures. 

Raga finds solace in her Muslim faith. When she used to work at a church-run food pantry, she says her fellow workers didn’t object when she excused herself to pray, which she does faithfully, five times a day. 

“Religion doesn’t have a place or time,” she says. “You can do it anywhere.”

They face struggles, but Raga hopes that she and her husband can build a life in the U.S. that gives their young children a safe place to flourish. “I hope, God willing, I have all the strength to give them anything that they wish for,” Raga says. That includes a good education. 

She plays with her daughters, always addressing them in Arabic, and offers homemade orange juice to guests. The drink is sweet and silken on a warm spring day.

“I thought after being here a few months, I would be able to achieve all my dreams,” she says with a laugh. Two years have passed. “We try as hard as we can to stand on our own feet.” 

Yasmeen Othman contributed Arabic interpretation for Raga’s interview. Ms. Othman works for Inspiritus.  

Shaking off “imposter syndrome”

Marco Escobar was itching for a job at age 14. The shy Utahan wanted to buy a new jacket, a new pair of shoes, something cool. But he didn’t want to bother his cash-strapped parents. 

Then his parents dropped the truth. “We have something important to tell you,” he recalls them telling him.

savage journey to the american dream

Marco wasn’t an American. In fact, he was living in the U.S. illegally. His family brought him into the country as a small child in the 1980s to join his mother, who was already here. She was seeking a better future, financially, for her son. Three decades prior in 1954, an American-backed coup overthrew the country’s leader, tilting Guatemala into chaos. 

“As a 14-year-old, you already don’t belong,” Mr. Escobar says. “Here, you’re being told that you literally – technically – don’t belong.” 

The “earth-shattering” news deepened his feelings of difference. Kids at school teased him because of his secondhand clothes – and his accent, which he worked hard to change. There was also the shame of walking down the hall to claim his free meal tickets. Marco felt small next to American boys. 

Beyond the shame, however, he also remembers the generosity he experienced. Like the surprise bounty of Christmas gifts, from what may have been a youth church group. Mr. Escobar prized the orange Hot Wheels car he received that night. It proved to him, he says, “people’s goodness.”

Despite being a straight-A student, the high schooler sacrificed dreams of college. He feared that applying might somehow expose his status to the government. But he did have a love for computers, nurtured in a special high school class. Mr. Escobar brought his knack for technical troubleshooting to a job at a local car dealership, even though he was hired as a seller. Relationships he built helped him land his first tech job.

As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, he says his faith helped him to be grateful as he strove to find success. 

Eventually, with the help of lawyers, he says he was able to get an employment-based green card through his father’s employer. He continued on to jobs in software and met his wife at work. In 2016, he became a citizen. 

Now in cloud software sales, he shares a spacious house with his wife and four children in mountain-flanked Herriman, Utah. He also welcomes new immigrants, many Venezuelan, as he volunteers with local nonprofits.

He still feels a kind of “imposter syndrome,” he says, a shadow he can’t shake. But he measures his success by the pairs of shoes he owns – now over 10. And he funnels a portion of his paycheck, every month, into a college fund for his kids.

“I have learned to live the American dream, even though a broken process existed for me,” Mr. Escobar says.

He eventually lost, and then replaced, the Hot Wheels car, that small engine of hope. Earlier this year, moved by hearing Mr. Escobar’s story, a neighbor bought him a mini orange convertible, too. Mr. Escobar treasures both toys – placed on his desk with pride.

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