The American Dream
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the American Dream as “the ideal that every citizen of the United States should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.” But what is the American Dream in actuality? James Truslow Adams, who first coined the term in 1931, described it as "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement." The phrase “American Dream” changed many times throughout the twentieth century, becoming the mantra of capitalist democratic ideology during the Cold War. In the 1980’s, Ronald Reagan would state that “America, above all places gives [people] the freedom to reach out and make [their] dreams come true”. Reagan’s statement echoed the sentiments of the country’s forefathers and stood as a precursor to the sentiments to come. In 2015, President Joseph Biden stated that “Everybody deserves opportunity and home and dreams and future,” in a speech about the benefits of community college. Though each era poses a different definition of the American Dream, or connects various new ideas to previous ideology, each statement circles back to Adams’ idea that America provides people with the opportunity to better themselves.
Upon my research of different definitions of the American Dream, I have come to find that no one true definition of the American Dream exists. The idea changes from era to era and from person to person. Everyone’s American Dream is different. Immigrants board ships and cross rivers in the hopes of living out their dreams of escaping perilous situations in their native countries. Students study and accumulate debt in the hopes of bolting from the poverty of their ancestors. Employees work odd hours at dead beat jobs in the hopes of saving enough money to give their children the education that they never had. The American Dream keeps every person working toward their goal to better their future.
But who actually gets to live out their American Dream? Bigots constantly deny minorities rights to basic amenities and housing and brutalize them. Americans are constantly force fed this idea of the “All American Boy Next door,” an able-bodied, neuro-typical, heterosexual, cis-gendered, white male: the epitome of America. He gets to live out his American Dream, while millions of others do not. Millions of others are denied housing. Millions of others are murdered and lynched. And yet, this shinning idea of the American Dream keeps people going.
My Ancestors immigrated to the United States from Mexico, and though their time has passed, they lived their lives hoping to fulfill their American Dream of making a better life. They hoped to make life better for both themselves, and their ancestors for generations to come. Their dreams led my grandmother and her sisters to be first generation college students, who then pushed my mother and aunt to strive for more and attend graduate school. Their American Dream, and their achievements ultimately allowed me to have the opportunities I have today.
Though systemic discrimination and oppression continue attempting to dissuade people from achieving their goals, people’s sheer willpower ensures that the American Dream will never truly peter out. This dream, which changes within each person, adapting to the obstacles and environments of the people, represents the undying heart of the nation. It represents the hopes and values of each inhabitant. It represents the struggles and tribulations that led people to where they are now. So, while people may try to pinpoint a singular definition of the American Dream, I believe that the American Dream is what we chose to make of it.