'American Dreams, American Nightmares': An Unfiltered Look At An Immigrant Family's Journey

Oct 10, 2019

The idea of the American dream is a core part of our national identity. Starting with nothing and working your way up is what many of us believe it means to be an American. But that dream has always been complicated, as Aarti Shahani experienced firsthand. 

Shahani is an NPR correspondent based in Silicon Valley and is frequently heard on All Things Considered and Morning Edition. She's also an immigrant from Morocco, moving to the U.S. as a young child. While she believes she's currently living the American dream, her father lived the American nightmare, as she describes in her new book, Here We Are.

"I have lived the dream and my father absolutely has lived the nightmare. That duality is something that my family's struggled with and this country struggles with."

Like many immigrants, the Shahani family came to the U.S. with little money and struggled, initially. By the time Aarti Shahani was in high school, however, things were looking up. She was attending an elite, prep school in Manhattan and her father was running his own electronic store with his younger brother. Then, things changed. 

"My father was arrested for selling watches and calculators to the Cali drug cartel," says Shahani. "He was told, 'If you plead guilty, if you take an eight months sentence, you can put this whole matter behind you.' "

Pleading guilty came with 14 years of legal nightmares that she says ruined her father's life, and defining hers in the process. It's where the subtitle of her book — American Dreams, American Nightmares — comes from. 

"I have lived the dream and my father absolutely has lived the nightmare. That duality is something that my family's struggled with and this country struggles with," she explains.

Shahani will join Lake Effect's Joy Powers on stage Sunday, Oct. 13, at Centennial Hall in the Milwaukee Public Library to discuss Here We Are: American Dreams, American Nightmares and her family's life as immigrants in the United States.