What exactly IS the American dream?

Ever since I was a kid I’ve heard that phrase but I’ve never quite grasped its full meaning.  At times I thought I understood it but at other times I wasn’t quite sure.  It was all kinda vague. And now, at this ripe old age, that same  refrain still begs and asks that question. Furthermore,  I would not be surprised if many others share that same uncertainty though they might be ashamed to admit it. In my particular case however, a young kid, knowing only poverty, the concept of an American dream was far beyond my comprehension. In fact, even beyond the comprehension of the adults that surrounded me.  And so, the concept of an ‘american dream’ escaped me, even into my adulthood. As time moved on however, it no longer mattered. Life went on, and as my personal circumstances improved, the question of an american dream was no longer relevant to me.

As it is my nature to be curious about almost everything however, I was still intrigued about the continued use of the phrase; especially since it is used constantly, almost to the point of monotony. So, one day when I had nothing else to do, I decided to dig deeper into its origin. First stop, Wikipedia, where I found James Truslow Adams, the man who first defined the American Dream as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to their ability or achievement.” Impressed by that definition I made a visit to Ellis Island.

ELLIS ISLAND

I could only imagine the euphoria those refrugees felt when they stepped on  shore; and who would they find there to greet them but Lady Liberty.

LADY LIBERTY

What I learned there opened my understanding and my appreciation as to what acheivements were possible, acheivements made possible by the United States of America.

When I was a school boy, I was naively led to understand that the american dream meant one thing, and one thing only, that is, that anyone could grow up to be  president. It didn’t include other signs of success. Since I knew it was unlikely I would ever become the president of the United States I concluded I would never attain the american dream .
     ***
Later, I have come to learn the American dream means more than just the right to be free, it is also the right to pursue your dreams and goals; it your right to free speech, as well as the right to demonstrate and to assemble;  in general the right to pursue all that is legal.

Yes, there have been ugly periods in our history, witness: slavery, racism, Japanese internment, Native American atrocities, the inability of women to vote. These are nightmares that have at times marred the American dream. Some still exist. As we have progressed as a people however, many of those blotches have been eradicated. Others issues still remain and must be addressed if we are to truly attain that ‘more perfect union.’

****
The United States is a relatively young country and still have much to learn, despite some of its shortcomings. A brighter day however always dawns over the horizon for our country.

There are varied examples that depict the face of  the American dream. This is one.

WALL STREET MOGUL

Follow my next blog: May 30, 2012

 
Advertisements