I can still hear my friend’s voice as he fantasized about a future that the music inspired. “One day” he said “I will be listening to these tunes while driving on Route 66” and then added as we chuckled: “You’ll see”. It was one of those evenings, some eighteen years ago, when my friends and I would gather around in a neighborhood corner in my native Morocco. We would banter about for hours while the likes of Bob Dylan and Tracy Chapman delivered rhythmic words of wisdom through a portable boom box.
We took pride in committing to memory American classics such as Born in the USA and Take Me Home, Country Roads. We argued about many things then, but one thing we always agreed on was that the land west of our shores was the land of our dreams. My friend, Zakaria, was the one who always vocalized those dreams for us all. He took us to the mountains of West Virginia, helped us see the sunshine of Carolina, and, of course, drove us along on that famous Route 66. Although imagining the scenery had always lit our faces with joy, what we truly aspired to was America; the land of possibility, freedom, and opportunity.
After graduating from high school, I convinced my mother to let me go to college in France. This had been as far as she would let me go given that I am her only son and that my father had passed away several years earlier. So, the plan was for me to get a college degree and return home to take my father’s place, but something happened along the way. Disillusioned with the discriminatory treatment I was receiving in southeastern France, my Speech professor introduced me to the writings of Dr. Martin Luther King. This was when my childhood dreams found an anchor in the American story of triumphant idealism.
More than anything else in life, I wanted to come to America.
When I arrived in 1994, my convictions about America were strong and unblemished. However, as the post-9/11 psychology intensified and the dark cloud of fear, hate, and suspicion cast itself over the nation, I found myself increasingly disappointed and disillusioned by the new America I saw. This is deeply personal to me: It is like a Greek Tragedy is unfolding with my American-held ideals being seriously challenged. I also found during my holiday visits to my homeland that the kids whose turn it is to fantasize about America’s ideals are instead scorning its standing in the world. Despite my own personal disappointment, I argued for the America that I dreamt about as a child. I tell them that America is going through a tough time, but that it will find its soul again because I believe now, as I believed then, that America is the home of dreamers and the land of the possible.
This I believe.