Old habits die hard – I began preparing a few days before my lecture on the American Dream at the United States Consulate in China. Staying up past midnight for many days, I revised, re-researched, added, removed and finally submitted the Powerpoint slides for the big day. The last time I had given a speech there was on Breaking the Glass Ceiling in America and I was so nervous that I vowed not to put myself through it again – except fear was an imagined terror because I enjoyed it so much that I decided to do it again.
What better topic to talk about in another country, at the U.S. Consulate other than the great American Dream? To talk about the country known for its land of opportunities not just in the past but even today. While traveling for the past one year, the people I’ve met in Europe and Asia praised it for its transparency, integrity and a place that can offer them what their mother country could not – a better life.
But like any creative work, my initial intent on speaking about the “great” American Dream morphed. Instead of talking about the good, I presented both sides of the coin, the good and the bad. I gave four examples: Danny Chen, a marine who committed suicide because he was racially harassed in the military, former President William Clinton, current Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who immigrated from Taiwan to America at the age of 8 and the black lives matter movement.
Pressed for time as the conference room where I gave the presentation must be vacated sooner than usual and foreign to my slides, I read them, seldom making eye contact with the audience, a room of thirty people. I tried to be mindful of my speed because they were all native Chinese speakers and their English proficiency varied from grade one to high school; some did not speak an ounce of English.
After my lecture, I began the discussion with questions such as “What is your American Dream?” “Are all men created equal? (a reference to the Declaration of Independence)” I was full of excitement, waiting for a wave of heated discussion.
Contrary to my last lecture, perhaps more straightforward, more people and less controversial which ended in many questions and comments, this time the audience was pitch quiet.
Instead of answering my questions, someone asked me, “What is your American Dream?”