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Rawlins Gilliland: The American Dream Street

Dallas,TX –

We're still at war and unemployment remains high. But commentator Rawlins Gilliland says you don't always have to look far to see signs of progress in this country.

Owning a home was integral to my American Dream. With that mindset in 1983, I found myself driving aimlessly in a part of town about which I knew nothing. Spotting a mid-century house on an expansive wooded hill with a "For Sale by Owner" sign, I told the woman who answered the door, "I'll buy it." This unlikely beginning on this American Dream Street foretold future tales putting a human face on the biggest stories of our time.

My southeast Dallas neighborhood was already integrated - meaning white, black and brown families - when I moved here. However, following the late 1980s housing meltdown, my neighborhood's middle class status faltered, making me a marginal socio-economic and racial anomaly. Buildings nearby transformed into crime-spawning subsidized housing units. More recently, a fresh single-family development replaced these dismal apartments, showcasing a utopian upwardly mobile diversity. Until this sub-prime mortgage Mecca launched a 60 percent default foreclosure rate. My property value dropped by half. But so did the taxes while the quality of life remains high.

Several homes nearby personify the epic Mexican immigration story. During the construction fever earlier this century, the huge house opposite my own embodied the stereotypical crash pad for Mexican workers whose daunting number of occupants parked cars so densely along the street that no ambulance, let alone a fire truck, could gain access. During this era, I watched little David, an adorable child living therein who learned English from me, evolve from a prepubescent angel into a calloused teenage dropout later convicted of a drug-turf murder. It broke my heart.

But mine is a tale of two Latino households. Before the Reagan Amnesty in 1986 gave them legal status to apply for citizenship, my immediate next-door neighbors were an invisible worker family from Guanajuato. Recently, I watched these beaming parents hang the lavishly framed college diplomas of their two sons, graduates of Massachusetts Institute of Technology, M.I.T. Talk about the All-American Dream!

Across from them, one African-American family saw their son deployed to Iraq. Any joy that he is coming home was briefly tempered after the recent repeal of Don't Ask/Don't Tell when their Army hero boy told them he is gay. This breast cancer- survivor mother and oxygen-deliveryman father are raising their younger teen son's unplanned parenthood baby daughter while he fakes his future as a rapper elsewhere.

Another black Mom and Dad two doors away are brilliantly raising in foster care seven otherwise unwanted children. On the night Barack Obama was elected, I filled a wheelbarrow with iced bottles of champagne and rolled it, replete in my tuxedo, to this household's open garage where they were gathered to watch the televised returns.

By serving champagne that night, I saluted what I have come to believe living on this American Dream Street nearly 30 years: When anyone's "American Dream" comes true, our collective chance to dream as Americans enlarges. What better thought to honor on Thanksgiving?

Rawlins Gilliland is a writer from Dallas.

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