After I researched the topic of the American dream, I personally came to the realization that it is not possible. I believe that this dream is dead because of racism, lack of education, and because of the over exaggerated expectations. It was hard at first to put this essay together. I definitely learned the difference between writing a report, and an analyzed essay—which I hope I did here. If I could redo this, I wish I found my assertion sooner so I had more time with the essay.
The Reality of the American Dream
ENGL 444M: Food & Class
December 6, 2013
The American dream is a concept that promises opportunities and fortune. The words alone are full of hope and optimism that attracts people all around the world. You have heard about it; you know about it, but do you truly understand what it is or how to achieve this dream? Every society has its own definitions. While an American-born citizen may think that the American dream consists of hard work, dedication, land, property, and the white picket fence, an immigrant will have a contrasting viewpoint. To many immigrants, America has become the “land of opportunities”, which is why the American dream is so alluring. With many immigrants seeking a life in America due to war conflicts, government, religious, and environment reasons, they truly believe that the answer to their problems is America. The idea of a “better future” and a “better education” is always associated with the American dream. However, is the American dream attainable or is it just an overblown and farfetched idea? This expectation of prospect may be different to every American and seeking immigrant in the world, but most men and women live their life based around this one idea.
The American Dream is an idea that has been around since 1931. A historian named James Truslow Adams wrote a book called The Epic of America, and wrote about “a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement…regardless of fortuitous circumstances of birth or position” (Gale). The American dream started with the people of Europe, who “fled the entrenched class restrictions of their homelands…in the hope of obtaining land and gaining religious and other freedoms” (“How the American…”) It was a concept that contributed to America’s success. Those living in America worked harder to achieve this dream. However, it has been well over eighty years since then, and with time comes change.
It is obvious that throughout time, the American dream has altered. Frankly, this concept is now a misconception based on empty promises. During the time of World War II—which lasted from 1939 to 1945, the American dream meant home ownership, and how to improve life at home. After World War II, the “American dream transformed into an ideal that relied on people being able to afford all the modern accessories: cars, television sets, and college educations for one’s children” (“How the American…”). As television became very popular, those who watched were highly influenced by what they saw. People aimed for those lives—the portrayed lives that “were becoming increasingly extravagant and unrealistic” (“How the American…”). The modern American dream became “something few can attain: excessive material wealth like that of professional athletes and movie stars” (“How the American…”). It is now all about the fame and fortune. Celebrities today are being paid to look good, and in today’s society, people aim to enhance their appearance to become wealthy rather than working hard. To think that over eighty years ago, the American dream was as simple as obtaining land and working hard for money and a home. The idea of the American dream has construed over the years and because of this, it is very difficult to achieve it.
The American dream is so hard to achieve that it “might as well be dead” (Fairchild). Many people know what the American dream is, “the only problem is, most of them don’t think they have a shot of making it come true” (Fairchild). Statistics show that only a mere 43% of survey respondents believe that achieving the American is still possible in today’s economy (Fairchild). Not only has our desires and expectations become much more materialistic, but the rise of prices has become an additional challenge. People today want more with less money.
Is it then safe to say that those who are struggling and are looking to migrant primarily want to come to be able to afford materialistic objects? Is it possible that “if people fear that the American dream is dead, it is because the concept has changed from the idea that everyone can improve their life through hard work to the idea that everyone can become a millionaire through virtually no work” (“How the American…”)? Of course, this is not true about every possible native-born American or immigrant. However, that ideology of wanting more—whether it is money, or luxurious items— with insufficient money or less work is present in most, if not all humans’ minds. Is this why many immigrants come to the United States only to be disappointed that it was not what they expected? It is because the American dream is now too unrealistic and “utopian” (Samuelson).
It did not take long for an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala named Pedro Pablo to understand just how unrealistic the American dream is. As a hopeful man coming into the United States, Pedro left his home country to support his family. He worked in construction, stating, “I thought I could get ahead here” but quickly added, “I regret coming” (Guituerrez). Not too long after, he “slowly [folded] up his American flag and stuff it in his duffel bag. With it goes his American dream” (Guituerrez). Pedro, along with “tens of thousands of immigrants—legally and illegally—are facing a similar dilemma: Do they continue to search for jobs in a struggling U.S. economy or return home to an even bleaker economic situation?” (Guituerrez). Pedro decided that the move to America was not easy and not worth it. He, like many others, have decided that the American dream is over exaggerated, and left the country disappointed and frustrated. The “land of opportunities” America once was, is slowly running out. Additionally, as the demand for work has declined, both native-born Americans and immigrants are greatly impacted. Both are seeking for jobs, but due to the lack of them, both are giving up on the American dream.
Most men and women who give up on the unattainable dream lose hope due to financial troubles. In order to achieve an ideal high paying career, education is necessary and a major part of the American dream. Unfortunately, many immigrants, whether documented or not, come to America with a lack of education. Thus, many immigrants find difficulty in earning money. Undocumented immigrants are finding it even harder as they do not have the documents to attend college, never mind affording it. Even native-born Americans are affected the same way. The cost of attending college now has nearly doubled the cost in 1980 (Fairchild). In today’s modern world, it seems as if students are working hard to get out of debt, not to achieve the American dream.
Even with these devastating realities, many immigrants are still striving to live the American dream. Psychologically, there is a term called confirmatory bias, which is a “filter through which you see a reality that matches your expectations” (McRaney). Most immigrants experience this; they expect job opportunities and easy money. The hard reality is that the trip over and life in the United States after migrating is very difficult. They choose to ignore this and focus on all they will benefit from. However, even those who initially believed in the American dream realize that it is an idea that is unattainable.
Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented immigrant, originally believed the American dream was very realistic. Upon arriving to America, Jose believed that “if I work hard and contribute, things will work out” (Vargas). At the age of 12, Jose made the journey to America with a coyote, because his mother “wanted to give [him] a better life, so she sent [him] thousands of miles away” (Vargas). With false documents, Jose was able to attend high school and college. Although he felt that he “created a good life” and was living the American dream, he knew that as an undocumented immigrant, he was “living a different kind of reality” (Vargas). He was constantly in fear of being found out, and his ability to trust others greatly suffered. After years of using a false social security card, passport, and driver’s license, he was finally “done running away from who [he was]” (Vargas). He lived what he thought was the American dream for nearly two decades until he decided that lying and falsifying documents was not a part of that dream.
It seems today that most people associate the American dream with immigrants because the dream has to do with a “better life”. When a native-born American was asked what the American dream meant to her, Rachel VanEarden answered with, “it means people coming to America for themselves and their families because there are more opportunities here” (VanEarden). She does not think of this concept much, “since [she] was born here so [she] did not necessarily come for a better life; it was given to [her]” (VanEarden). To Rachel, she does not believe the dream is dead for immigrants, but it most definitely is deteriorating.
The American dream is dead to most and deteriorating to others, but there are still people who have not given up on the idea. A married couple fled Cambodia due to genocide, and since then, made a beautiful family—forever thankful of the opportunity. This family was very fortunate to escape a tragic event, which killed over 2 million people (Cambodia 1975). This couple incorporated both past and modern versions of the American dream. They wanted to work hard, not only to survive in a safer environment, but to also be able to splurge every now and then. They have worked so hard for their kids to go to college, which is something that may have not been possible in their home country. With all the violence that was going on in Cambodia, they were able to escape. Leaving a land of what seemed to have a limited amount of opportunities, they found a new home along with stable careers and their children are in college. In that sense, to themselves and many others, they are living the American dream. However, the parents are undocumented and the children were born citizens. With Jose’s story, it makes you wonder if and when this family will realize that they are not necessarily living the American dream. What happens when the parents and grandparents are deported? Even if the children still do well, are they still living the American dream without their family?
Another family from Indonesia seems to be living the American dream, but they too realize that they are not completely fulfilling it. This family had a good life in their homeland. At the time, the married couple had successful jobs. The father was a national sales manager for a prosperous company, and the mother was an inventory supervisor. They provided their kids with all they wanted and needed, and the family was doing really well. They went on many trips together, and most people would consider this family living the American dream in Indonesia. However, the parents still wanted to make the journey to America—“the land of opportunity”. Their biggest concerns were their children, and their goal was a better education and an overall better future for them. They came documented and the parents are now currently a catering manager and a janitor here in America. They gave up their well-paid corporate jobs to strain their bodies for their children. Was it worth it? Was it worth the struggle of maintaining enough money now when they had over enough of it in their homeland?
When asked if they regretted their decision, the answer of “no” came fast. This answer may be a surprise to most, but their added response was, “Yes, it’s tough here but no, we’ve never regretted our decision. Here in America, you can be whoever you want!” While this one couple is still full of optimism, the reality is that they are working longer hours and doing more strenuous work for less pay. Truthfully, they were doing better in their native country. They were able to afford more luxurious items and were getting paid more there. However, they fall victims to confirmation bias to reassure themselves that the move, along with the financial, physical, and emotional struggles were worth it.
It is easy to understand that a move to a different country is difficult through the idea of starting over. Yet most people do not realize is that moving is also very difficult due to the emotional side effects. Every immigrant coming into the United States is a victim of prejudice. The idea of not fitting in, or feeling unwelcomed is very common to every immigrant. In fact, “America is an immigrant country, but the American identity isn’t an immigrant identity” (Chopra). This country was founded and formed by immigrants and America became so powerful and strong because of the mix of cultures and customs. The sad truth is that not many people are embracing the diversity. Additionally, “one kind of immigration [arriving long ago] makes you more American than the other kind of immigration [arriving recently]” (Chopra). Sadly, there is an overabundant amount of racism and stigma towards incoming immigrants. This especially pertains to non-Caucasian immigrants. The troubling truth of racism is that:
“The United States often desires immigrants from advanced, wealthy, and well-educated nations, and drives out those immigrants from poverty-stricken countries with little emphasis on the importance of education; thus, the U.S. has become discriminatory toward the immigrants’ nationalities. For example, although the southern border of the United States is half as long as the U.S.-Canadian border and has the equivalent of an army division patrolling it, many U.S. citizens think the southern border should be watched and controlled even more, while the northern border of the United States is barely defended at all by relatively few fire trucks (Manzanas, 2006)” (Cid).
This fact especially pertains to Hispanics, who are the nation’s current largest minority group (Lopez). Out of the 51,927,000 Hispanics in the United States, 33.5 million are from Mexico. Those coming from Mexico are trying to avoid poverty, but it is interesting how the “structural inequality” spoken in the previous quote “creates an environment where poorer immigrants who are more personally motivated to improve the lives of their families have become, paradoxically, less empowered to do so” (Cid). Employers of the United States are quick to hire undocumented workers, but do not want them to become permanent citizens. How can immigrants achieve this dream if they are not even welcomed to become citizens? Racism is in the way of immigrants fully achieving the American dream.
Judgment and discrimination are not only projected in the work force, but also in personal ways. The family from Indonesia believes they are living the American dream, yet they also believe they are stigmatized in their society. Due to this fact alone, they are not living the American dream. The American dream should not consist of feeling out of place, or feel unwanted based on their ethnicity.
Realistically, the American dream is what an individual makes of it. Generally, there are basic definitions of what it is, and how it has transformed overtime. However, there are too many challenges that prevent people from fully achieving this dream. These challenges include racism, insufficient funds, and lack of education. Because of this, there are differing opinions of the American dream. It is dead to some, and very alive to others. Many strive for the old dream that was created in 1931, and others strive for the modern dream. All in all, while people have diverging definitions of the American dream, it is still unattainable and very unrealistic.
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