American Dream For the Second Generation Guyanese Girl

There is one picture that never ceases to both amaze and perplex me as a daughter of immigrants. It’s my parent’s wedding photo taken in 1988 in an old Bronx photo shop, which likely does not exist today. The photo features a shy, 80-pound bride donning a close-fitting, Victorian era dress (minus the ’80s poofy sleeves) and a white top hat. She’s from the developing nation Guyana and her new husband sports a freshly cropped, curly Afro and gray suit. The liberty blue sky and cloud backdrop envelope their eager smiles.

Kamelia's Parents Wedding Photo (Loving the '80s poofy sleeves on my Mom's dress and retro cloud background) Photo Credit: unnamed Bronx photo shop

Kamelia’s Parents’ Wedding Photo (Loving the ’80s poofy sleeves on my Mom’s dress and retro cloud background) Photo Credit: unnamed Bronx photo shop

At the time my Mom had no family members in America, so my Dad’s cousin, who worked at the thrift bridal store offered a hefty discount on the bridal gear, and witnessed her struggle pulling on dress after dress, each one bigger than the last.

Today when my Mom looks at the photo she remembers how cold it was that February day when my parents (and several of my Dad’s relatives) crammed into a two-door vehicle to accompany them on the photo shoot. When I look at the portrait, I am amazed by how much hope this picture encapsulates. If I were my Mom, a 23-year-old with an arranged marriage entering a new country, I would be running to JFK airport in search for a one-way ticket back to Guyana. But she stayed.

I asked my Mom why did she make such a big move, she was a young woman with experience designing clothing and had already held a job at a local sewing shop. But of course the typical narrative of maternal sacrifice and hope for her daughters followed. Despite my pushback and commitment to unmasking my Mom’s saint-like demeanor, I realized she was right.

Growing up I had the cushion of a home in south Queens, a private school education and a television to teleport me to a slew of dreams I may not have had the time to develop if I were a young woman growing up in Guyana, one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere with an economy based on sugar and rice farming and gold and bauxite mining. As a 13-year-old Guyanese American, I envisioned myself climbing on top of elephants’ backs, teaching in Africa, visiting my country of ancestral origin, India, and hosting talk shows like Tyra Banks and Oprah. Selfish and bold as I felt, I knew I always wanted more. I would never be the woman in search of one goal: to raise and nourish a family.

I’d like to think the shifting paradigm of the American Dream could be more so described as a journey, not necessarily discovering yourself, because that sounds spiritual and abstract, but more as one designed for “go-getters,” a word my Mom uses to describe my two sisters and me. The word is impartial to the amount of money you make, it’s more so based on what you desire.