Leaving the New World: the fall of the American Dream


Victoria goes back to her roots in Rome

By Emily Howard

Victoria doesn’t believe in the American dream. She grew up on Long Island, the same neighbourhood in which Gatsby chased his dream in the roaring ‘20s, but she doesn’t see it that way. “My ancestors came over from Italy around 1920, and they worked, like, doing construction. They didn’t really attain anything. My grandma used to have to pick tomatoes in a field, it wasn’t glamorous.” A century since her ancestors moved to the New World, 23-year-old Victoria Tetrault is moving back.

Head tilted, she ponders whether she feels like an American. “I guess so. But I feel like I’m different from a lot of stereotypical Americans. I don’t even like soda.” She shudders at the stereotypes of gun owners and obesity. “I do find it very awkward when people ask me where I’m from. It makes me uncomfortable. It’s kind of embarrassing, like when people like Trump try to run for President.”

Even for Europeans living in Groningen, the topic of the U.S. election is never far from people’s lips; but still far less than in America. Victoria is both distanced and attached to the election. “In one way it’s nice, because I’m totally not fixated on it, but since I’m not there I also don’t get a chance to see how things are coming about and what’s on the news.” After months of the horse race, Victoria won’t get a say in the victory: her absentee ballot did not arrive. She’s not worried, though; New York is not a swing state and usually falls to the Democrats.

Personal is political

The international security student considers herself a New Yorker – of the state, not city, that is. Talking about her hometown, she’s conflicted. With 7 million residents, the island is too big to have a sense of community, and “there are definitely some people I don’t like there. People that come from New York city on vacation to the Hamptons, they’re usually kind of obnoxious.” She’s proud of the food, though: pizza, bagels, and egg sandwiches (don’t mention Long Island Iced Tea). The food and the accent are what she is occasionally homesick for, and why an intricate map of the island hangs above her desk.

“If Trump wins, I don’t want to go back. I would be really embarrassed of my country, and I’d definitely be more ashamed of telling people I’m American.” The issue affects her emotionally, especially Trump’s treatment of women. “I’m thinking of my nephews who just see this guy talking about ‘locker room talk’. Usually a President is someone you can look up to, like, how are you going to look up to someone like that? It’s really disgusting.”

Victoria’s parents don’t share her concern. Her father was previously a staunch Democrat who was on the Democrat committee in his town and even met Hillary Clinton, but Victoria is pretty sure he’s “going the opposite way” in the upcoming vote. Her mother too has been against Hillary since the Lewinsky affair, but it’s rarely brought up in family conversation; Victoria prefers to avoid confrontation – ironic, given that gun laws are one of the main reasons Trump supporters rally for him. Her father has multiple guns and her mother wants to get one too, but Victoria is concerned about gun culture. “Clearly, we have a problem if people are dying because of this.” A friend of her brother had a toddler who accidentally shot himself when he found his dad’s gun on top of the fridge, she explains, her soft drawl catching in her throat. “I just don’t get it. Maybe I’m naïve, but I’m scared of guns.”

Violence and conflict are no stranger to Victoria, as they are core to her Master’s in international security. This is also a reason why Victoria is on edge about the Presidential election. “If Trump gets elected, I’m definitely more worried. He wants to bomb everything,” she refers to Syria.

However, she doesn’t think that concepts at the other end of the spectrum, such as world peace, are attainable. “We were trying to define peace [in class recently] and we couldn’t even define it. Every country thinks of their own peace differently.”

Retracing footsteps

Victoria has always been internationally-minded: her first foray into other cultures and countries was in 6th grade when she did a project on Ancient Greeks. “Maybe it was a geeky thing, I was always really into it.” Her favourite subject was when global history started in 9th grade. At a parent-teacher conference, her mother was surprised when the teacher told her, “your daughter is so worldly.”

Victoria admits that she has a different worldview from most of her family and friends back in the States. “My family has never been to Europe, except for me. They’re like, ‘why are you there, come back home’.” But, of course, Victoria isn’t the first in her family to go to Europe; as well as her Italian great grandparents on the one side, the other side descends from Dutch and British ancestors who came to America in the 1600s.

In under two days the die will be cast, and the next President will be announced. If Trump succeeds, Victoria won’t be returning to America for at least the next four years. If Clinton succeeds, however, who knows when she will return; she wants to see the world first. Maps of France and Italy join the map of Long Island on her wall, and will soon be accompanied by others: she is spending Christmas vacation in Sweden and Finland. Her Italian connections surface again; just last weekend, Victoria travelled to Rome, and she is in the process of applying for Italian citizenship as she is within the necessary generational period of origin.

Victoria doesn’t believe in the American dream. Instead of rushing to the New World seeking Gatsby-esque grandeur, she is tracing the footsteps of her ancestors in reverse.

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