Saving the American Dream

It was winter and the streets of Vienna were covered with snow. The plows were busy for most of the night, and I watched them go up and down the street. I couldn’t sleep because earlier that day, I had had an interview at the American embassy that would determine whether I would be admitted into United States as a refugee. It was a long application process and it seemed like it was finally coming to an end in my favor.

The next morning, I bundled up and crossed the street to the nearest phone booth. I was making the call to find out the results of the interview. I was confident that I would receive a positive answer.

“I regret to tell you that your application has been rejected,” said the voice on the other end.

I didn’t answer back in hope that my silence would negate the words I just heard. Perhaps I was imagining it. After what seemed like an eternity, I said, “What do you mean? I don’t understand.”

The man on the other line simply repeated the same sentence but this time his words were kinder and almost apologetic.

“You can always try to appeal the decision,” he continued. “You are allowed one appeal.”

“Thank you for letting me know.” It was all I could bring myself to say.  I held back the tears but I could feel them in my throat. There it was: that godawful lump that didn’t want to go away, a burden that descended upon me. I barely even looked at my mother and my four-year-old cousin, and I kept muttering,

They can’t do this. They can’t do this. Of course, they could and they did. But at the time, I really didn’t pay attention to practical matters. I became disoriented and preoccupied with the snow. What at first seemed like a romantic image of a postcard from Vienna became an impediment to my vision—a cold and miserable inconvenience.  

At that point in my life, I’d been living in a Czech refugee camp for three years. I’d survived the war in Bosnia, but as in the aftermath of any war, there wasn’t much hope of having a productive life in a country so broken apart by war and genocide. I was 16 years old and I was determined to come to America, almost to the point of obsession. Following the advice of the man who delivered the bad news, I wrote my appeal and sent it to the American embassy in Vienna. I didn’t have much hope, and I knew that if my appeal was rejected, it would mean the end of my hopes for coming to America. But the news that came back was positive and a few months later, my mother, my little cousin, and I made the long and uncertain trip to America.

I didn’t know what could possibly await me here. As much as I always had a healthy dose of realism, the idealist in me couldn’t help but think that all of my troubles would go away once I stepped onto American soil. But it was only the beginning of a great struggle, particularly in the first few years. My spirit was almost crushed when, not even a month after I came to America, my father died in Bosnia.

I was disappointed by my surroundings—the old and small apartment, dog pee stains and God knows what else on a worn out 1970s couch that should have been thrown out years ago, a mattress that was so worn out it could have passed as a water bed, and that awful scent of formaldehyde in the ancient kitchen cabinets. I yearned so badly to go back to my homeland. But I couldn’t. The plane ticket that brought me to America had to be paid off, and we had $100 to our name.

I suppose I could have given up. But there was something so inherently American in my being that giving up was not an option. In spite of being surrounded by Americans who lacked ambition and instead relied on the collective to give them some meaning or identity, I knew implicitly that this did not represent true American character. It could not.

When I arrived in the United States in the late 1990s, I didn’t notice any active hatred of America. My time in academia changed that. I couldn’t help but notice an ideological movement, the main aim of which is the assertion of Marxist ideology and the annihilation of American principles. Even so, the anti-American rhetoric seemed confined largely to the ivory tower, and I didn’t (or perhaps couldn’t) see the subversive character of leftism as clearly as I do now.

Today, a globalist ideology has greatly contributed to a persistent attack on American identity. This is what I see every day, whether in academia or in the public square, and this is what leaves me feeling somewhat despondent and confused. How can someone who is born American harbor so much resentment against his own wonderful country? It’s one thing to be a healthy critic who respects sober analysis about one’s country. But I am talking about something different—insidious, corrosive, and  ultimately destructive of the brilliant legacy of America’s Founders to say nothing of freedom itself.

Genuine exploration of American identity has become an occasion for the American Left not only to criticize America’s  founding principles of but also to label patriots as “nativists” and “nationalists.” Both terms, in the leftist mind, have negative connotations. According to the illogical principle of reductio ad Hitlerum, to have any national pride means that you’re a goose-step away from full-blown Nazism. In the irrational streams of consciousness of the American Left, to love America is to be a racist and a bigot. It seems that the only acceptable way to discuss what it means to be American is to reject America’s founding principles in favor of an inchoate and often incoherent idea of “progress.” The Left often likes to say  “dissent is the highest form of patriotism,” but they never seem to want to ask or deliberate about what they are dissenting from. This so-called dissent is just subversive, Alinskyite agitation. No surprise then, that the fruit of their labor is chaos.

At the heart of American ethos is the American Dream: an expression of the call in the Declaration of Independence to honor our rights to “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Yet the American Dream cannot be summed up in just those few words. Its particulars are different for everyone. Moreover, the Dream is not exclusive to those who choose to become American citizens, as so much of the propaganda today would have you believe. It is also, if not primarily, for American-born people. Whatever its specifics may be, we can certainly conclude that the Dream is an expression of individuality and freedom. The Left deny this Dream. They would call it an illusion. But in denying it, they take away the value of my choice to be here. Such a philosophy is no champion of immigrants. It makes a mockery of them.

For me, the escalating attack on America’s founding principles is a palpable and visceral experience. I reflect on my life, particularly the 22 years since I came to America. I reflect on the war and oppression that I experienced, I observe the irrational behavior of the Left, and I am firm in my belief that the uniqueness and greatness of America must be defended. For those of us who have felt the heavy hand of oppression and dehumanization, it’s clear that the restoration and preservation of American values is not only a philosophical but also a practical necessity, and that “the price of liberty is eternal vigilance.”    

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About Emina Melonic

Emina Melonic is an adjunct fellow of the Center for American Greatness. Originally from Bosnia, a survivor of the Bosnian war and its aftermath of refugee camps, she immigrated to the United States in 1996 and became an American citizen in 2003. She has a Ph.D. in comparative literature. Her writings have appeared in National Review, The Imaginative Conservative, New English Review, The New Criterion, Law and Liberty, The University Bookman, Claremont Review of Books, The American Mind, and Splice Today. She lives near Buffalo, N.Y.