When I left China twenty years ago to pursue graduate degrees here in America, I believed that the American dream was more than degrees, houses and cars. When I stepped onto this soil penniless, I did not feel fear or solitude, I saw in my new home the freedom that I’ve dreamed for – streams of auto lights, white and red, flowing freely and orderly in their own courses; on both sides of the multi-lane highway, gigantic lush trees stretched gracefully in the gathering dusk. Beyond, the Potomac meandered leisurely, flickering the last ray of sun. There were so many roads for everyone to travel, so much sky for every living thing to reach out to, and so much space for dreams to thrive.
I have come here to look for what I had not seen and yet I believe in. I grew up in a soil that choked dreams. As a child, when I first heard the piano music en route to the remote village of my family’s exile, I thought that should be the music of my life. But I never actually got to see a piano until a decade later. When I first read Hans Christian Anderson’s stories that my parents rescued from the Red Guard’s fire and let me read in secret, I thought writing stories like that for the rest of my life would be heavenly. Yet instead, memorizing and reciting Chairman Mao’s little red book took over my childhood. When tender buds of dreams wither, they don’t come back easily. And when dreams died, one does not believe. So I have come to look for that belief – I want to believe, and I want to pursue a dream of my own.
But even here in America, personal dreams must sometimes be deferred and then earned with much conviction. I had come here baring with me the expectations of generations’ ancestors who lost their chances to wars and revolutions. I did not have the luxury of sitting by the Potomac to write my stories as Anderson did.
In classes, I learned to question, to analyze, and to find my own answers; from my new friends, I felt the contagious energy in the search, the quest, and the dogged pursuit for their dreams. Years later when I mailed my diplomas to my parents in China and told them that I was to become a professor, I knew I had revived the dreams of my forefathers.
I believe in dreams. I believe dream is bigger than the good material life we live here. I believe dreams never die, for they transcend time and nation. I believe in freedom, for freedom is palpable: I taste it while lecturing from my lectern, I hold it in the books I’ve written, and I see it in my children’s eyes. I believe in believing.
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