By Eric Lopez
Ahh… the American Dream. Sounds great, doesn’t it? That we as individuals have the power to change our lives simply by living in America. On the surface, that sounds marvelous. But there is more to the American Dream than what meets the eye, especially for immigrants. When we hear about the journey of families who immigrated to the US, we see that the narrative of the American dream is more of an American nightmare. In Lauren Lee’s novella, Living In Snake Skin, the protagonist Li Fang travels to the states in the hopes of providing for her family but she struggles to pay off her debts and lies to her family in Taishan, China. She is left with no other option but to work at an illicit massage parlor just to make ends meet.
Even before Li Fang came to America, her journey toward the American Dream was already a horror. She had to pay human smugglers known as “snake heads” to travel to America. Upon her arrival, she was already in debt to the snake heads. Li Fang’s burden of debt inspired Lauren Lee’s title for her novella because Li Fang is trapped by the snake heads instead of living her American dream. Li Fang had to go into sex work to pay off debts, and that should never have to be the only option. Asian women are often portrayed as sexual objects in Western Films is related to violence based on gender and race. Unlike in Western Film and TV, Li Fang is able to express her feelings which humanizes and creates a greater understanding for her and other women in similar situations.
Despite how traumatic these stories are, leaving them untold is not an option because the American Dream is not just about success stories. When children of immigrants hear about these stories, they build a greater understanding of their parents' parenting because they would know what experiences impacted them. And the truth is, immigrants who try to live the American dream have to go through hell to reach their success.
Why is this the case? Because immigrants who are socioeconomically disadvantaged are disproportionately affected by the American Dream. The loads of abuses and disrespect that the character, Li Fang, had to face is heartbreaking and our fellow human beings have aspirations beyond just surviving. Even the children of immigrants personally take on the pressure of making sure their parents' struggles of coming to America were worth it. The idea of the American Dream will continue dismissing people's basic needs if we keep glorifying that you need to be miserable to be successful.
Hear more about her novella, Living In Snake Skin, from Lauren Lee herself on Episode 6 of Read to Heal Podcast, which is now available on Youtube.
Eric Lopez is a high school student attending Camino Nuevo Dalzell Lance and a high school content creation intern at Novelly for Summer 2022.