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Socioeconomic Background as a Barrier to Success

The books The Dreams of Two Yi-min by Margaret Mai and Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement by Lilia Villanueva and Craig Scharlin have many vital points in common. In their stories, the authors reveal the lives of people who arrive in the United States from remote countries in the hopes of a better future. However, both protagonists of the books face numerous barriers before they manage to reach success and capture the desired American dream. Margaret Pais’ father, Mr. Kwon, and Philip Vera Cruz were both immigrants, the lives of whom had many parallels, even though their ways never crossed and took different turns and directions. However, the social backgrounds of both individuals have been shown to have a significant influence on them, particularly in the context of facing racial bias and social discrimination.

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Mr. Kwon came to the US from Japan in search of job opportunities that would turn his life around because he was tired of living in the restricted socio-economic environment of the country at that time. While he considered moving to his homeland, Korea, going there presented many challenges. Aged around seventeen years old, Mr. Kwon met some farmers who were looking for laborers from Korea to work on the sugar plantations in Hawaii, as mentioned by Pai (4). A similar situation occurred to Philip Vera Cruz, who was among the many Filipino men who left for the US. Born in an impoverished neighborhood, he struggled to go by, and eventually, his family lost everything they had. Therefore, both men’s socioeconomic background was very similar – they came from no wealth, with no opportunities available to them apart from hard physical work that could allow them to get by.

When Mr. Kwon started working at the plantations, he received an extremely low wage. The small one-room apartment he had with his wife was poorly furnished, and they had to cook food, entertain, and sleep in the same place. Philip was very young when he had to start working on the farms and was unprepared for such an occupation. While Mr. Kwon rented an apartment after living behind his employer’s mansion, Philip lived in the camps for workers. The conditions there seemed to be even worse than the other character’s living environment. The author described the camps as being filthy and overcrowded, there was no toilet in the house, and the workers had to dig holes (Villanueva and Scharlin 20).

The socioeconomic backgrounds of both individuals took a toll on them when they arrived in the States as they faced bias and ignorance because of their low position. Philip’s experience was similar to what the majority of Filipino men went through – they were seen as only physical labor workers who had nothing else to offer. His wife was not treated as an American citizen even though she had already lived there for several years. Even when she was officially allowed to obtain an American passport, she was denied from streamlining the process, with the Immigration Office officials claiming that they could not guarantee that she would ever be able to have the document issued. Such an example shows that immigrants were not treated the same as other citizens, which prevented them from reaching their desired position in society.

The importance of both stories is illustrated in the positive but gradual changes that began occurring in the characters’ lives. While Philip became engaged in protesting against the injustices that he and his peers encountered when coming to America, Mr. Kwon focused on working hard and providing the best life for his family. He opened a ship that later transformed into a factory while Philip was the founder of the Agriculture Workers Organizing Committee and engaged in ongoing volunteer and advocacy work. He later became the highest-ranking Filipino officer at the organization and worked hard on improving the living and working conditions of both farm workers and underserved populations.

To summarize, both Mr. Kwon and Philip had similar socioeconomic backgrounds upon their moves to the United States. In the hopes to improve not only their living situations but also have greater access to more opportunities, they faced discrimination and injustice. While both of them started their careers as simple laborers who were not regarded as parts of society, their paths expanded gradually to include more turns and stops. One cannot deny that both the social status of the characters in their homeland and upon arrival to the US prevented them from being successful in life – without proper education, the range of their opportunities was highly limited. However, through dedication and perseverance, Mr. Kwon and Philip got what they wanted; otherwise, their stories would not be as compelling. The Dreams of Two Yi-min and Philip Vera Cruz teach readers that social inequality is a real problem that should be taken lightly. No matter how eager a person is to be successful, their socioeconomic background could act as the critical barrier to accomplishment.


Pai, M. K. (1989). The Dreams of Two Yi-min. Amsterdam University Press.

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Villanueva, L., & Scharlin, C. (2000). Philip Vera Cruz: A Personal History of Filipino Immigrants and the Farmworkers Movement, Third Edition (Third ed.). University of Washington Press.

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