The American Dream: South Bend, Notre Dame, and Beyond

By Sara White and Alex Daugherty

Cesar Estrada, a senior at the University of Notre Dame who lived undocumented for the first eight years of his life in the United States doubts the American Dream, saying it “is not the same for undocumented people in the US.”

Estrada remembers his mother working an “eclectic combination” of jobs in Fort Worth, Texas, taking whatever employment wouldn’t require proof of citizenship. He wouldn’t see her for several days at a time; she’d leave for work before he got up in the morning and return after he was asleep at night. Unfortunately, jobs are even scarcer now in our economic crisis.

For a country of immigrants, undocumented people in America have had their rights and economic opportunities greatly reduced, just as Estrada described. It is often forgotten that the American dream was intended for immigrants – the very people our country and President Trump are stigmatizing and threatening to deport out of country.

The shortage of jobs, however, is a result of diminishing industry that reaches across racial lines.

When Studebaker went out of business in 1963, the loss devastated the economy of South Bend, where the company and its factories were based. Overnight, South Bend transformed from a company town into a ghost of its previous manufacturing glory.

Karen Richman, professor of Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame told the story of an auto worker turned taxi driver that she knows who could go to another factory in the city, apply, and be hired for a new job during his lunch break if he was dissatisfied with his work on a production line in one company.

“But all those [manufacturing] jobs are gone,” Richman said.

Estrada explained that Latino immigrants are not fighting for jobs held by white Americans,

“We are about to enter a depression, so we have less jobs,” Estrada said. “We don’t want your jobs. We’ll take a job, but we don’t want your jobs.”

Added Richman: “There’s this sense, this drumbeat – ‘we have to address this crisis. The actual situation of migration, of the integration of immigrants might not correspond to this sense that we need reform and that we sense that there is a crisis.”

Richman said there have been periods in American history, not too long ago, “when we were calling for immigrants.”

But now they are the scapegoat to economic insecurities. President Trump claims that immigrants are a threat to American jobs, but Richman said the facts state otherwise.

“We can’t just assume that because of certain changes in economic opportunity for the mainstream population, that that means there’s an immigration crisis,” Richman said, “So immigration is a part of global capitalism, it’s totally integrated into it and if you look at the making of the world capitalist system, which began in the sixteenth century – the migration of people and also of money and products, commodities, that’s essential to the system.”

Before the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), immigrants were free to enter the country and begin work, raise their families and spur generational wealth – due to the era of Ellis Island, which freely welcomed over 12 million immigrants between 1892 and 1954.

“You’re strangling the American dream by not allowing current immigrants to have the same opportunities as the previous wave of immigrants,” said Estrada.

Although sympathetic to the immigrant experience, Estrada agreed there should be rules to regulate immigration.

Despite not classifying himself as a “privileged” immigrant, Estrada said he feels mostly satisfied with his experience at Notre Dame as a previously undocumented immigrant and minority on campus. Active in Glee Club and the Notre Dame Marching Band, Estrada admits that his positive experience at Notre Dame is due in part to his engagement and involvement with the majority of the student body.

For Estrada, assimilation was a part of blending into predominantly white high school, not escaping his Latino culture. From movies and media he perceived those ‘white things’ were “what rich people did.”

This ‘white privilege’ included citizenship for Estrada, which he achieved in middle school. This privilege was also acknowledged by 100 residents of South Bend and surrounding areas on April 18th.


Photo by Alex Daugherty: The newly welcomed US citizens gathered in Washington Hall.

The largest naturalization ceremony in Saint Joseph county since 2011 took place earlier this month in Washington Hall on the campus of the University of Notre Dame.

Hilda Loubser, a chef from South Africa, came to the US for the variety of produce, equipment, and jobs in culinary work. However, obtaining citizenship was a long, arduous journey that included being separated from her sister who already lived in the US.


Photo by Sara White: Hilda Loubser, proud to become a US citizen.

“The process took 18 years since the first time we applied,” Loubser said. “It’s just nice to be a part of a good country.”

South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg was the guest speaker at the ceremony. Buttigieg contextualized the ceremony in national conversation about immigration in the U.S. saying, “We are living in a moment when the nature of being American is, in many ways, politically contested.”

Buttigieg works against the stigmatizing rhetoric from our president saying, “America gets stronger today by your being here. America grows stronger, America grows more inclusive, America grows more intentional and our community, too, is better off.”

“We make sure that we are supporting economic opportunity for anybody who is able to participate, with little regard to their country of origin.” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg is holding to his word on creating economic opportunity for South Bend residents in his plans for transforming auto alley into modern, high tech industry.

Transforming South Bend industry, Mayor Buttigieg recognizes the true crisis in America today: economic opportunity, not immigration.

“We need a new sense of patriotism, something that brings us together more than the fact that we are all within the same borders,” Estrada said.


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