Let’s begin with happier times: 1965.Más...
My grandfather finds a job at a steel factory after being discharged from the United States Army and will maintain it for over thirty-five years. He builds himself a little nest-egg in this time and is able to retire at a decent age with a real possibility of enjoying his twilight years. It is an accurate indicator that there is indeed an American Dream, and though it might not be as glamorous as the ones described in famous literature and film, it is still vibrant and real. And best of all: it is attainable.
These were well-paying jobs that anybody could get. From the convict to the grammar school drop-out, there was very little stopping one from earning an honest pay and providing for their family.
Fast forward to the year 1998.
I am ten years old in a happy middle-class family with a little brother and a little sister. We have a three-bedroom house, a big and open yard, a dog named Apache, and no less than two cars in the driveway at any given time. It is no longer 1965. My mother also has to find work to help support the family. Living off of one person’s salary is the product of a bygone era, but the frame of the American Dream is still intact (we just have more babysitters than in generations prior).
My father was entering year twelve at the box plant, following in the very footsteps that my grandfather had walked in before him. He worked long hours managing the machine corrugator and made sure that nobody cut their hands off with sweat in their eyes. My mother bounced around from occupation to occupation, from waitressing to assisting a local dentist. My family made enough between them to afford the mortgage, lifestyle, and to even take yearly vacations to Minnesota to visit my mother’s parents. Life was good for a ten-year-old me.
Until it suddenly wasn’t.
I have these hazy memories of my dad coming home from work covered in dust, pacing nervously around the kitchen and living room, hands anxiously covering his mouth. As he put it, there was this company overseas that had decided to merge with the one that he worked for, and he was certain that this was the death rattle for his career. To be honest, I don’t have many memories of my parents together, but I do remember my mom reassuring him and patting his back. I remember it making me feel better, too. I don’t know if she believed the words that she was saying, but I definitely did. It was going to be okay. There was nothing to worry about.
My parents divorced a little later that year, Apache ran away and would never return, and the little slice of American Pie that was due to us looked like it was being eaten by somebody else. Some other family. Maybe the ones on TV (the ones that were marketed to us but looked and felt just a little different).
A month or two after that and my dad’s factory moved to Mexico. Just like that, one flick of the wrist on a dotted line, and hundreds of people were out of work. Our middle class family would spider-web into two distinct versions, both poorer than they were when we entered them. And before long, it would be a real stretch to consider us middle-class at all.
We were now poor. We were “eat hot dogs and bologna sandwiches for dinner six nights a week” poor. We were “You broke a window, so we’re going to tape a blanket to the frame and forget about it” poor. We were “get your school clothes at the Salvation Army and pray to god that no kid notices it as his own” poor. “No health insurance so don’t break your teeth” poor.
Poor poor. Rural poor.