The political season is in full swing and the American Dream has moved to center stage. Donald Trump says the American Dream is dead but he will “make it bigger and better”. Bernie Sanders said the American Dream got hijacked by the top 1%. Hilary Clinton wants to “write a new chapter in the American Dream”.
What is the American Dream?
The American Dream is a set of ideals in which everyone can have opportunity and social mobility through hard work and without artificial barriers. James Truslow Adams, in his 1931 book, The Epic of America, stated this about the American Dream:
“The dream is of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
Today, many feel that the American Dream has become elusive for the middle class. Others believe that the American Dream is moving beyond the grasp of the poor who must work two jobs to ensure their families’ survival. Sadly, both may be true. Yet some look toward a new American Dream with less focus on financial gain and more emphasis on living a fulfilling life.
The Immigrants Story
My grandparents came to the US over 100 years ago fleeing oppression from the Ottoman government. They were threatened because of their Armenian heritage and their Christian religion. It is hard to imagine them boarding a ship for a distant port with only a small suitcase and not knowing whether they would arrive at their destination alive. They survived the Great Depression and two world wars to allow me the opportunity of their dreams. Both of my parents worked to keep the dram alive for my sister and me. None of my grandparents or my father lived to see me graduate from college, to witness my professional success, to meet my wife and children or to visit my home in Hingham. My story is not unique.
Like the air we breathe we take the American Dream for granted. Our children are several generations removed from the struggles of their immigrant ancestors. But it is important for the new generation not to forget the courage and sacrifices made by those that came before. The stories may feel abstract to them but it is important for them to understand their heritage. What is unique about America is that we want these dreams for more than ourselves – we want them for our children and each other.
In Search of the American Dream
Do you want to find the American Dream? Don’t look to Washington or to any political candidate. Look in the mirror. You are the American Dream that your immigrant family sought and today’s immigrants hope for. Your ancestors would be proud of you and all that you have achieved.
All is not perfect in this country yet people continue to come to our shores or cross our borders with little beyond the hope for a better life for themselves and their children. They are guided by that vision of a “shining city on a hill” where their dreams for a better life can be realized. We are the stewards of the American Dream for future generations and for those with that hope today. Let’s not diminish the importance of that responsibility.