What is the American Dream?

Emily Mao, YGI Staff Writer

I was born to a man who carved the American Dream into his bloodline. The general idea of the American Dream goes like this: “Work Hard. Get to America. Work Hard. Secure stability and opportunity for your children.” Throughout my childhood, I went from living in a two bedroom apartment to living in a multi-million dollar house. My mom went from working three jobs to shopping at Hermes. In those years, I believed in the American Dream.

2008 was the year everything changed for my family. On a Friday night, my dad had borrowed 100,000 from our family friends. The skepticism with the iPhone screen market
was widespread and the price of shares was diving down by the hour. During these hours, my dad bought all the shares he could with all the money we had and all the money he borrowed. As the price of one dollar worth of shares turned into 5 cents, we had temporarily lost everything. But on Monday morning, he discovered that the 5 cents of shares had skyrocketed to five dollars. It was not over years of enduring hard work, but rather over a weekend, that he had guaranteed the security of his children, fulfilling what many define as “The American Dream.”

I think recognizing privilege is difficult for those who endured past hardships and can hide their privilege under the persona that privilege only comes in one form: white privilege. I long had dismissed the idea of my privilege, perceiving myself as just an embodiment of “The American Dream.” But as I strolled through the mall and realized that I could buy something without even checking the price tag, I recognized my privilege in all its glory.
It takes a certain amount of ignorance to claim that “money cannot buy happiness”, because those who say it have never experienced the reality of poverty. I define privilege as the ability to grow up ignorant to the source of money, unaware of the sufferings of those outside one’s own community. I define privilege as the capacity to believe in a smaller world, one that deems those outside our borders as almost nonexistent, where “current events” is more of a homework assignment than a reality. I define privilege as the ability to not worry about voting because the issues that people worry about, whether it be related to police brutality or minimum wage, will not affect me, and the only barriers that I face are not due to external factors but self-imposed ones.

But is this sense of privilege the ultimate prize of the “American dream?” Is this what we as immigrants or ordinary Americans aim for?

The story of the American Dream has been engraved in the American identity for generations. It is the reason why many outside our borders hope to immigrate to the US. But it has fallen, causing those who are able to grasp a bit of it to reach an end goal state — one where we are contently disillusioned by our own privilege.

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