The American Dream: An Investigation

The American dream has always been something of interest to me. In school, they talked of people coming to America in search of it. We were told that we were all capable of achieving it if we worked hard enough. The pursuit of the American dream had always been a part of my U.S. history lessons, but never defined in finite terms. Which brings me to my next question: what is the 'American dream'? 

If you Google the American dream, this is the definition that comes up: American dream (n.): the ideal that every US citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative. says that the American dream (n.) is: 1. the ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American. 2. a life of personal happiness and material comfort as traditionally sought by individuals in the U.S. (“American dream”)

And finally, Merriam-Webster defines the American dream (n.) as: an American social ideal that stresses egalitarianism and especially material prosperity; also: the prosperity or life that is the realization of this ideal (“American Dream.”).

Although the three sources don’t highlight a definite path to achieving the American dream, one thing is certain — the American dream is said to be for all Americans. It is a dream that entails living a life of happiness and success, via hard work and dedication, that should be available to all Americans regardless of race, country of origin, religious affiliation, gender, or sexuality. I have heard time and time again that America is becoming increasingly divided, but we are all united on this front — the belief that all Americans should be able to achieve the American dream. Even if America is growing increasingly divided, this investigation has led me to believe that the definition(s) of the American dream are so elusive because America is a place of differences, which means that no dream looks the same. So no, I don’t know what the American dream looks like, but I know what America looks like. It’s filled with: immigrant dreamers, black dreamers, Asian dreamers, Latino dreamers, Syrian dreamers, Muslim dreamers, Native dreamers, etc. 

However, the American dream has not always been accessible for everyone. Egalitarianism itself has been an American dream. Prior to the civil rights movement, the American dream wasn’t available to African Americans — and in some ways, it still isn't. Meanwhile immigrants who wish to return to a country they consider home — but can't —must put any version of the American Dream they have on hold. The very idea of America was founded on robbing and displacing its indigenous people. Langston Hughes once asked in his poem “Harlem”, “what happens to a dream deferred?” and this is a question that plagues people of color, immigrants, and those disenfranchised by the nation’s institutions.  But the dream of an equal opportunity to achieve the American dream is one that I hope America can continue to strive for, as divided as we are or may become — the hope for a dream deferred no more. 

Image source: Tumblr

"American dream". Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 31 Jan. 2017. 

"American Dream." Merriam-Webster. Web. 31 Jan. 2017.

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