Thursday, August 16, 2007

Langston Hughes and Un Alchemista

Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist presented the surreal world of Santiago and his pursuit of his Personal Legend, with the universe conspiring to help him towards this goal of finding gold underneath the pyramids of Egypt – only to find out that the real treasure was at the starting point of his journey, near the old church in the fields of Andalusia. Santiago’s journey was truly perilous yet charmed as he encountered different people such as a mystical king who guided him throughout his journey and Fatima, the desert lady who continually inspired Santiago to move forward and carry on. He was a young man with big dreams and aspirations, and the treasure he sought did not merely represent the pursuit of worldly possessions. The treasure symbolized the lifelong attempt of men and women to embrace a fullness of existence in all aspects of life – physical, emotional, economic, cultural and even spiritual.

On the other hand, the American Dream is a little bit cruder than such a lofty discourse on the fulfillment of dreams and aspirations, as the point of departure of the American Dream is basically socio-economic – to ensure financial stability which would ensure a privileged life with leisure, education and healthcare services enough to secure the future of a nuclear and/or an extended family in the United States. Such is the primary motivation of the complex mix of foreign nationals and cultures who continue immigrating legally or illegally to the United States, as compared to their origin countries (most of which are from the Third World), the chances of fulfilling one’s Personal Legend, in the Alchemist parlance, is absolutely better in the United States. This is the reason why countless Hispanics cross the borders in the desert towns in the South and why thousands of Asians enter the United States as healthcare professionals or even accept odd-jobs in inner-city neighborhoods. Nonetheless, while the much vaunted American Dream continually lures people into the United States, the pursuit of such a Dream, even such a Personal Legend is full of pitfalls and trials which can seemingly be reduced to a discourse on impediments based on race. Despite the abolition of slavery, the dismantling of segregation and the collapse of apartheid, the discriminations based on race continue to manifest in both urban and rural America, albeit in more nuanced and hushed ways, and such tacit forms have embraced not only millions of African-Americans but also all the other races which continue to flock to the United States. Such a racist culture pervades in American society now, especially in the wake of the terrorist hysteria of recent years, where Islamics, Arabs and Middle-Easterners are profiled and preemptively suspected of wrongdoing.

However, like Santiago in The Alchemist there is a way out of this cultural impasse. Langton Hughes, the preeminent black poet of the 20th century, described the sad ordeal of the African-Americans under the pain of racial discrimination and correctly predicted that such a culture that imprisoned his people would soon be dismantled. As he wrote poetry about the lack of education of the black children, the prostitution of black women and the disempowerment of black men, he also wrote countless manifestos that showed how high his esteem was for his colored race – that with unity and principle and action, they themselves may soon liberate themselves from their chains. To an extent, Langton Hughes did achieve his Personal Legend, even if it took years after his death for the dismantling of segregation. Nonetheless, the message for the present nuances of racial discrimination in the context of The Alchemist and Langton Hughes is clear – the social-racial impediments of today’s pursuit of the American Dream can be overcome to ensure the success of individuals who wish to dream and aspire to life the quality of their lives and their families. The step towards this cannot be done the way Santiago did, but a painstaking and patient campaign of enlightening people, regardless of race, that the primary determinant of one’s existence and success is never race nor creed but hard work, determination and commitment to one’s dreams and aspirations


  1. Hughes, Langton. The Collected Poems of Langston Hughes. p.170 & p.643, Knopf
  2. Coelho, Paulo. The Alchemist. 1995

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