2 minutes reading time (441 words)

Stephen Zralek speaks on the American Dream and is featured in the Tennessean.

American Dream Continues To Draw People Here

When I think of the immigrants joining our community in Middle Tennessee, I think of my own ancestors. I think of the dream they had for their families, and the sacrifices they made so that my life could be better than their own.

My mother’s family came to the United States in the 1700s. Their stories begin long ago and are harder for me to access. My father’s paternal grandparents came to Chicago in the late 1800s, looking for a new life for their family. My great-grandfather worked in the stockyards in Chicago. The father of seven children, he was killed when a meat-hook ripped through his back. His wife, who spoke hardly any English, was offered a mere $100 to settle any claims she may have against the company. She had no one to advocate on her behalf. She needed whatever money she could get.

My grandfather, himself still a boy, had to grow up quickly. As a child, he got a job to help care for the family. He had five children, saw all of them go to college, find meaningful careers and start families of their own. One of them was my father, who moved to Nashville in the 1950s.

This story of arrival is the same story for almost all of us. Our ancestors’ countries of origin and the dates of their arrival may be different, but they all decided to come to this country because of its promise of opportunity — because of the American dream. They all sacrificed so that we could have better lives, and so we could reap the benefits of their hard work.  Today, our great country continues to welcome new arrivals from all parts of the globe. People continue to leave behind everything they know in hope that they can give their children a better life. Some people literally risk their life in order to enter our country.

Once they come here, they start over from square one — with nothing, taking the lowest paying jobs and working some of the hardest jobs. Their economic, social and cultural contributions to our community are immeasurable.

This Thursday, we will honor the contributions of three Latino small-business owners, whose businesses have persevered in the middle of the Great Recession. All three graduated from Conexión Américas’ small-business program, and they contribute to the prosperity of both their families and our entire community. You can join us as we "Change the Conversation" to focus on the contributions made by Latino immigrants on May 26 at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel at 7:30 a.m.

For more information, visit ConexionAmericas.org.

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