Current Occupation: Instructional Student Aide
Former Occupation: Cashier
Contact Information: Ernesto Reyes is currently an undergraduate at Fresno State where he is studying English and creative writing. His short stories has appeared in the San Joaquin Review, Flies Cockroaches & Poets, Subtle Fiction, the Acentos Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, the Big Windows Review, and Better Than Starbucks. He lives in Fresno, CA, with his family.
Sorry, everyone, but there’s no such thing as the American Dream
When I was a freshman in college, I told my mother that one of my professors argued that the American Dream was nothing more than a myth. They said that the idea of escaping one’s social conditions by working hard and having integrity was “an outdated doctrine,” a “fallacious” way of thinking. To this, she nods intently but doesn’t bother telling me what she thinks. Instead, she tells me that when she came to this country, she worked in the fields 12 hours a day, six days a week. She tells me that she and her brothers would leave their house at four o’clock in the morning to pick grapes, onions, tomatoes, oranges, peaches, plums, boysenberries, and chilis. She tells me that she and her six other siblings lived in a two-bedroom house that had only one window and warm water on certain days. She tells me that when she got a job as a cashier, she cried because “Ya no tenía que salir y ensuciarse,” and that, out of nine years working as a cashier, she only missed one day, and that was to attend my grandfather’s funeral. She tells me that her employer, a down-to-earth man with “always a glimmer of hope and sadness in his eyes,” said she was the best worker he had ever seen and asked if she would like to be promoted. Manager? No. Co-owner of another store he owned: Country Corner Market. She did not hesitate on the opportunity. She tells me that customers and salespeople weren’t used to seeing a woman, especially a Mexican woman, as a “boss,” and that some tried to walk all over her; but although she was scared and nervous and shy at first, she never allowed herself to be disrespected or degraded. My mother, scared? Shy? She then tells me that she opened at eight o’clock every morning and closed at six-thirty every evening and worked every day for almost 20 years; I even took my first steps behind the counter and spoke my first words in her office. A tear runs down her face as she recalls this memory. Now, 26 years later, she finally tells me that she’s “tired” of having to work so hard. Now, she has days off and can finally relax and hear my stories about how my college professors say there’s no such thing as the American Dream.