Putting it in Perspective: Investing in the American Dream

Posted by Rachel Horn on Mon, Nov 21, 2011 at 9:52 am

Earlier this year, Henry Cisneros, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), was one of the featured speakers at the Urban Institute Forum on “Immigration and the Changing Face of Metropolitan America.” Throughout the event, Cisneros and the other speakers discussed demographic changes to the current decade’s immigrant population. Overall, the population in the United States is getting older overall, and that the only segment of the population adding to the youth (who will one day support the growing elderly group) is Hispanic immigrant families.

Cisneros’ presentation highlighted his non-profit community venture, American Sunrise. The organization’s mission is “to serve as a catalyst in the revitalization of neighborhoods by providing economic and educational opportunities that improve the lives of working families.” The American Sunrise program is not limited to immigrants. It serves as an umbrella program that gathers resources in five major areas that reaffirm its mission: education, adult services, housing, economic revitalization, and community service. However, through his newest venture, he has parlayed these fairly basic goals into an inspiring system that provides a focus for immigrants seeking to become a part of the fabric of America. Through this work, Cisneros answers the concerns about what immigrants might take from national resources with a firm response about what they will give.

The system is called “Our Pledge,” and it is essentially a challenge to Hispanic immigrants to invest in America by fulfilling a series of tasks: learning English, reinforcing the value of education in their families and putting their children through school, buying homes, providing health care for their families, expanding participation in military service, and engaging in community, civic, and religious activities.

Describing the program, Cisneros spoke passionately about the need to welcome immigrants into our communities not just because it is the right thing to do, but also because of the potential that the immigrant population represents. Offering a fresh perspective, he pointed out that in many cases, immigrants represent the most industrious of their own societies; the people who have the drive, strength, and courage to relocate and start from scratch. He shared that immigrants are often the most successful in small business because they understand the importance of building community connections, and he reinforced the point that many of the other speakers shared through their data about immigrant home ownership rates: given the opportunity, new Americans will take it and succeed more often than not.

We are living in a time of uncertainty about the future and the opportunities for success that might be available for each of us. Rather than trying to close our doors, let’s look at the immigrants, refugees, and asylees who enter our country as an addition of fresh potential. Cisneros’ model, while it provides an important degree of structure in the trajectory that many new Americans’ lives take, also reaffirms and revitalizes some of the basics of the American dream for all of us, showing that an investment in the immigrant community is “an investment in the future of the entire country.”

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