American Dream or American Nightmare

black and white portrait of a young woman with black hair.
  • Yue (Maria) Ma, M.Arch. 2019
  • Hometown

    Beijing, China
  • Class

    ARCH 5116 Fly on the Wall
  • Instructor

    Visiting Critic Derek Dellekamp
    Rozana Montiel
    Erin Pellegrino

February 2018: I was on a field visit to the U.S.–Mexico border with my colleagues. Our vehicle entered Tijuana and stopped at a junkyard right next to the border wall. The wall is 10 feet tall, made with corrugated metal panels covered by rust and graffiti. Along the seam of each panel, carefully hidden, are some small peeping holes that tease your curiosity. Looking through them, one can see a carefully flattened ground and Trump's pristine prototype walls evenly spaced out across the field. Roads, lights, and cameras are carefully placed to facilitate the construction and security of these new potential border walls.

A bus stopped several feet away from us. A dozen 20-year-old men with dark clothes and black backpacks swiftly exited the bus in an orderly manner and quickly moved to the wall without any communication or eye contact. Then, they started helping each other climb over the wall, and once they reached the other side, they ran like a bullet out of the shaft. There was no communication involved during the entire process, the only thing you can hear is your breath and heartbeat. While we were still in shock of what had happened in front of our eyes, one man showed up behind the trash with the same dark clothes and black backpack. Clearly, he was one of the people on the bus, but he didn't cross. He moved to the wall and stared at the other side for a long time. Then he disappeared in the junkyard.

If he wanted to cross the wall, he had the opportunity to do so. However, what stopped him in the last minute — fear, friends, or family? In this case, the mental boundary is much harder to cross than the physical boundary. René Descartes once said, "When hope is so strong that it altogether drives out fear, its nature changes and it becomes complacency or confidence . . . When fear is so extreme that it leaves no room at all for hope, it is transformed into despair; and this despair, representing the thing as impossible, extinguishes desire altogether, for desire bears only on possible things."

According to 2015's statistics, there are 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. (1), 26 percent of them are below poverty level, and 63 percent of central American unauthorized immigrants are below the poverty level (2). To reduce the economic pressure created by these unauthorized immigrants, the government invested $13 billion to border control each year, from 2017. (3) However, harsh statistics and strict policies will not stop people wanting to come to the U.S., because the imagination of the U.S. represses the concern and fear of the reality. Fear is originated as our survival instinct, and it is like a potent virus in an operating system — no matter what application we use, the virus will affect the performance of it. However, if we genuinely believe in a fantasy that is created by us or the other, this belief functions as a shield that intercepts us from our fear.

Yue (Maria) Ma


  1. "Estimates of the Unauthorized Immigrant Population Residing in the United States." Department of Homeland Security. April 24, 2018

  2. "Poverty | Federation for American Immigration Reform." The Cost of Illegal Immigration to US Taxpayers | FAIR. May 6, 2016

  3. "Stats and Summaries." Border Patrol Overview | U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Jan 29, 2018

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