The American Dream: Changing? or Gone?
Coining the phrase “The American Dream” in 1931, James Truslow Adams created the notion that America was the country where ample opportunity was available for all. Characterized by often having a stable, well-paying job and a nice house, the traditional understanding of the The American Dream is prosperity stemming from success. It is very probable that almost everyone living in the U.S. has ties to immigrants that came here searching to fulfill their dreams. Now more than ever, the idea of the American Dream is changing for millennials. Not only are millennials establishing their own definition of the dream, how the dream is viewed from an immigrant’s perspective, and the opportunities that await them in our changing society, are changing as well.
Immigrating from Italy to Ellis Island in 1916, my great grandparents arrived in order to establish a better life and have more opportunity than that which was offered in Italy. 100 years later, the idea of working hard to achieve the American Dream, the principles my relatives built their success around, are still evident today yet completely changing at the same time. To my great grandparents, their greatest source of pride was immigrating here and building a prosperous life around the opportunities provided. Years later, many immigrants are no longer feeling this same pride. Is achieving this “American Dream” still something that all immigrants strive to achieve?
Sunayana Dumala, an immigrant from India whose husband was shot to death in February, defines the American Dream as the ideal that everyone in this country has equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity. Her stances on the American Dream are those that many immigrants believed 75 years ago and still believe today. Many Indians immigrating to America today come from humble upbringings and live by one idea: “work hard because in America you can be what you want to be”. As an Indian woman, she saw the opportunities here much greater than those in India. Now since Indians are under attack, many see this dream fading. Dominating the news in India, the “wave of anti-Indian sentiment” has added to Indian immigrant’s fear, especially after the 2016 presidential election. The common rhetoric against Indian immigrants recently has instilled fear in Indians living in the U.S. now for their children, and even those still living in India. This perfectly demonstrates the changing dynamic of this country; years ago, our economic and physical infrastructure was built on immigrants and the American Dream they held and worked for when immigrating here. It is unfortunate that many foreigners, especially from countries targeted by our society, no longer hold the aspiration of finding success in America. This is not only because of the changing stereotypes associated with immigrants, but due to the fact that India has experienced tremendous economic growth and has truly “opened up to the world”. As American citizens become more and more reluctant to accept citizens in such a competitive society and economy, in turn the image of the U.S has diminished to those seeking a new and advantageous life.
Years ago in the 1930’s, men and women dreamed of having a house, family and education: in that order. Years later, millennials are now taking a different approach to this so called “dream”. These things previously referred to as the dream (a house, family and education), are still circulating, just in a different order. Some may argue that the same goal of achieving happiness with a family and a steady job are becoming harder and harder to reach. Millennials are taking a different approach to reach their idea of “happiness”; now more than ever, we see more independent and entrepreneurial approaches to this dream. Many believe that as a nation we have shifted to become a nation of individuals with no defined goal; this being said, people are more likely to live their life on their own terms and try to make a difference in the world. Generations such as mine are growing up in an era of holding others to standards and benchmarks. Although this may hold some back, these changing dynamics of our society have started to create a culture that is realizing it is ridiculous to live life based on others standards. We see evolving beliefs like these being fostered right here in the high school environment; activities with counselors in order to make a plan for our futures, whether to head to college or start working in a specialized trade area, are becoming more and more common in order for everyone to achieve their “dream”. Years ago, a man’s dream might have been becoming a manager of a factory, whereas today the dream of young men has shifted to become an entrepreneur.
A major component of the American Dream is education. Nowadays, many young people are going through a steady educational system, and plan to use that education after high school and college. This being said, millennials number one priority is no longer marrying and having kids at 25, but rather receiving a degree and finding a steady job. The extreme emphasis that is put on education currently, and how it is prioritized, has shifted greatly since the 1930’s. In 10 years, without a college degree, many jobs are going to become obsolete. Although a college degree is often hard to achieve for some families, in the long run the educational process is extremely beneficial to our generation and society. Part of this is due to the changing financial aspects of our country. As home ownership costs are rising and unemployment grows, it is more and more common for students fresh out of college to move back in with their parents. 65 years ago, this would have been very rare; instead of moving back in with parents, moving in with a newlywed husband and baby would be more realistic. As well, to many millennials, a more precious commodity than money is personal freedom and the choice to live life on your own terms.
On the contrary, growing up in a different era, we have had exposure to different ideals and hardships. 50 years ago, depression era parents taught their children “a penny saved is a penny earned”. 50 years later, living in a consumer society, the idea of saving money is not as high on a millennial’s radar. Being surrounded with the idea that everything is “replaceable”, the need to truly value each little thing has decreased. With the changing generations, the definition of the millennial dream, and how that dream is achieved, is changing now more than ever.
Overtime, the ideals of the American Dream have evolved with our society. The goals and the order those goals have been achieved by my great-grandparents and grandparents who immigrated here are very different than that of my parents and myself. It is evident that as our economy, social conceptions and mindsets diversify throughout the years, the ultimate goals of the American Dream have held constant: hard work, success and opportunity, despite the changing ways to achieve them. It is important that as current and future generations grow up, we create a welcoming and intelligent society capable of allowing each individual’s “American Dream” to be fulfilled.