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American Dream has always been a hope for thousands of people but not all of them realized clearly what it presupposed. Citizens of almost every country of the world were inspired by it and even tried to achieve it. However, is it really something achievable or just another utopian concept coined by the Americans? In this paper, we will discuss equal rights, opportunity for enrichment and individual pursuit of happiness for immigrants as main ideas of the American Dream. We will also try to make a connection between these three notions and such American values as liberty, legal equality, equal opportunity, tolerance, respect of dissent, self-reliance, and pursuit of truth.
It is frequently asserted that employment is lower in Switzerland, owing a home is easier in Australia, attending college is more likely in Canada, yet dreams come true most often in America. Despite what may be heard about this nation’s decline, it still lives better than any other nation. According to the simple idea of the American Dream, every person who enters the USA is destined to make true everything he or she has ever wished for. In simple words, it means that if one works hard enough, one can become rich, and if one tries to find happiness hard enough and long enough, one will find it. The roots of this idea are rooted in the hopes that the first immigrants had about the recently discovered unexplored continent that is now commonly known as America.
The American Dream is actually a certain quantity of dogmas about achieving success. It is not just an outcome of high income and a secure job. It is the concept according to which even those who are poor and have limited skills can succeed in life. So, many disadvantaged people are still optimistic about their future because they believe in the American Dream. It is generally composed of two elements: belief that there is a fair chance of succeeding and ample opportunities to do so. In other words, everyone has a chance, the opportunities are there, and hard work will be rewarded.
Immigrants in struggle for the American Dream
What is the American Dream that has drawn and still draws immigrants? How does it attract so many immigrants – both legal and undocumented ones – to America and how do they live when they arrive? Enduring belief that effort will be rewarded is clearly a motivating force for many newcomers. Immigration to America started approximately three hundred years ago and continues until now. People from all parts of the world flocked to this country in search of money, jobs, and freedom. America has always been a land full of opportunities for immigrants. Immigrants from all over the world were actually people who ardently believed in the concept of the American Dream and trusted “get-rich- quicker” schemes that were popular in this country. They flooded America fueled by economic forces of industrialization and urbanization. It was estimated that between the years 1880 and 1925 approximately 25 million people moved from different countries of the world to the USA. Immigrants were mainly from Asia, Eastern and Central Europe.
Immigrants expected to find shelter and asylum in the USA. It was tempting for them to move to America because the USA was believed to give them freedom from taxes, kings, and compulsory military service. Some immigrants were transitory and after earning a certain sum of money they returned to their native land. So, they could not be a threat because they had been staying in the country not for a long period of time. These immigrants were involved in the cheap unskilled labor, i.e. the one the natives refused to do.
Restriction of immigration in the USA started at the end of the 19th century. The Immigration Act of 1896 marked the creation of the Federal Immigration Facility and Bureaus of Immigration and Naturalization. After this governmental action, the Americans were frequently associated with eugenics because they wanted to bar dysgenic members of some races entering their country and diluting what was conceived as the superior American racial stock through procreation. Since the adoption of the Immigration Act, foreigners were interviewed and underwent medical exams on the Ellis Island and later on the Angel Island to determine whether they should be admitted to America. Immigrants had to pass medical inspection because at that time the majority of the US psychiatrists agreed that the great wave of immigration posed an urgent public health danger. The Immigration Act of 1917 banned immigration from Asia and required immigrants over the age of sixteen to pass a literacy test in their own language (Lodge, 2009).
Some Americans eagerly celebrate immigration and diversity it brings while others worry about numbers and their impacts. Therefore, we may speak about the double nature of the American Dream for the immigrants of the 21st century. Although the Americans try to stick to their values, they frequently forget that they have to be tolerant and respectful towards dissent. Liberty, legal equality, and equality of opportunity are the words frequently used by politicians in their election programs, yet they are in fact violated in the USA.
Throughout the American history, immigrants have come to the USA to find a better life for themselves. Their dream involved a simple possibility of working in the USA. Immigrants have always focused on the material well-being and prospects of a better future life. Nonetheless, with the passage of time, the golden doors started to close. It has become increasingly difficult to immigrate legally, thus the number of people who now illegally cross the American borders have dramatically surged. It was estimated that currently there are approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the USA. It is actually 12 percent of the American population. That is why, it would be logical to foresee that the population of immigrants influences greatly the wages and employment in the country. Another striking fact is that 28 percent of total foreign born population is unauthorized (Ten economic facts about immigration, 2010).
American values are often associated with The Statue of Liberty that is a personification of freedom, democracy, and the American dream. It is officially named ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’. The Goddess Liberty stands on the broken chains, holding a torch and a tablet in her hands. It symbolizes all the advantages possessed by the United States and greets the immigrants who come to the United States and embodies hope and opportunity. By virtue of its placement in the New York harbor, the Statue of Liberty represents a particularly pluralistic kind of the American nationalism, the one tied to immigration and opportunity more than to the nativism and exclusion. Most importantly, it represents the United States. This country is often called a melting pot. Of course, it is a metaphor, but it evokes the image of people of different origin who happily live together. It should be pointed out that the Statue has become the symbol of liberation from oppression and sufferings for thousands of immigrants. It has become a symbolic beacon to immigrants, representing freedom, opportunity, and acceptance to the dispossessed. The Liberty’s torch sheds light on the future, not the past. The Liberty’s image evokes patriotism, even political equity, yet she gives her compassionate gaze to those fleeing from oppression and poverty. She greets all the poor, tired, and outraged (Redstone, n. d.).
After the two World Wars, the Statue served as a symbol of American opposition to fascism and communism. However, the Americans started to think of it as more of an attribute of liberty and freedom in the aftermath of the attack on the World Trade Center in September 2001. After those tragic events, the Statue of Liberty has become something more than a symbol of the United States as opposed to the notion of totalitarianism and communism. It is also connected with public debates over the issue whether new government security measures pose a threat to the Americans’ basic values and freedoms. American citizens started to think that an endless war with unseen terrorists might limit their personal freedom and force them to give up their basic rights (Spying on the home front, 2007).
African Americans in struggle for American Dream
African Americans struggled for equality, liberty and respect on the part of White population for most of America’s existence as a country. The history of these peoples was greatly shaped by the experience of and reaction to slavery. Relations between the colonists and African Americans differed in the North and in the South. Pattern of slavery in the North was characterized by the fact that, in general, fewer people owned African American slaves. Slaves performed roles of domestic servants, field workers and artisans. They sometimes could earn enough money to buy themselves freedom. There were also numerous cases when the owners liberated slaves. The tendency of enacting laws against slavery was very widespread in the North. Contrary to what was going on in this part of America, in the South the whole society’s functioning was impossible without slaves. There existed a specific classification of slaves. There were house servants, who were considered to be the top category and slaves who engaged in skilled labor, those who had veterinary skills and handled horses, as well as those who worked in the field planting and harvesting crops of cotton and tobacco.
White owners’ treatment of African slaves was usually terrible. Frequently they tried to persuade Black women to lay in bed with a “Negro” man. It should be admitted that it was a widespread tendency among the White owners to increase the quantity of their slaves in this way. All the laws in the South were designed against African Americans. There were disputes concerning the issue of children from the Englishman and Negro woman. Should they be slaves or free? After the passage of a special law, all children were to be held bond or free only according to the condition of their mother. It also doubled the fines for those who committed fornication with “Negro” men and women. As we can see African Americans had tough time living in America and couldn’t even imagine that they can have the same liberty and equality as the Whites. In the speech dedicated to the anniversary of independence proclaimed on the 5th of July, one of the few literate African Americans was asked to express his opinion and happiness because of the USA independence. But he started wondering why he is to speak today if this national independence didn’t give him and people of his race freedom and justice they wanted and struggled for. This African American expressed the opinion that this independence only widened the distance between the Whites and the Blacks and while the whole America rejoices, he is to mourn because of inequality and injustice he and his race were and are suffering (Douglass, 1852). African Americans have always dealt with barriers, particularly a race barrier. Even after abolition of servitude in America the overall position of African Americans didn’t change much – here is no question that it was much harder to get a job if you were not white. You could get the job, but it took more time, more interviews, and more motivation. The American Dream seemed to be impossible to achieve for the African Americans.
For centuries African Americans were viewed as inferior class of people, didn’t have the liberty to express their own opinion and didn’t have any freedom in any aspect of their lives. There existed a general truth that they are not equal with the Whites because of their skin color and it seemed to everyone that it is impossible to change this truth. Such people as Martin Luther King were striving to change the established truth for African Americans. He attempted to prove the falseness of viewing this race as unequal and inferior. Martin Luther King did not wish to triumph over the white population. That would only result in transferring of those people who are in the bottom to the top. But he considered that if people could live up to nonviolence in thought and deed, an interracial society with freedom for all will emerge. Martin Luther King was of the opinion that the notion of freedom is closely connected to the notion of equality: it is a freedom defined in terms of inclusion, not one where some benefit at the expense of others. It is also a notion of freedom that imposes responsibilities.
Martin Luther King was a hero of equality dream. One of the key themes in the repertoire of Martin Luther King was the American Dream. He was of opinion that America is a dream at its core, but a dream yet unfulfilled. It is a dream of land where people of all races, nationalities and creeds could live together as brothers and sisters. He strived to bring the realization of equality and opportunity dream. It was to make America the country where people don’t consider the color of skin to be a determiner of person’s character. He also wanted to end the general tendency according to which necessities were taken from people of different than white color in order to bring luxuries to the few. In his speech “I Have a Dream” Martin Luther King emphasized his understanding of the American Dream. The coming years would bring victories – notably the passage of Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, two of the most important rights in the history of American egalitarianism – but more defeats (King, 1963).
Women in struggle for the American Dream
For centuries women were overlooked and not viewed as equals. While men were explorers, landholders, political leaders, women remained invisible figures that were frequently equated by their position in the society to African American slaves. Females’ main role was limited to being child bearers and they were often exploited as sex mates, servants, and companions. Women were a type of house slaves oppressed by their husbands in the matter of intimacy and obliged to connect and take care of their children during whole their lives. In different periods in history they were indentured servants often abused by their masters, and male entertainers in the meaning that they were to cheer up their male companions. Marriage was an act after which woman lost not only her surname, but her freedom and was becoming an inferior human being for the master – husband. Women didn’t have the right to have any kind of property in their possession and if they had children out of wedlock, they were viewed as criminals, unlike man who was the real father of these children. Even the Constitution didn’t protect them – according to it, all men, but not women, were created equal. Women were not allowed to vote and were largely illiterate. Inequality between men and women took place even in the matter of premarital purity. Sexual purity for women was a must, while men were considered to be sinful by their nature and were not subordinate to this rule. Women were trapped in cult of domesticity, their marriage enchained them, and children enchained them even more (Zinn, 1980).
Women remained locked in dead end jobs with wages too low to support themselves, let alone sustain the family. If working women of previous century were paid the same amount of money men earned, the number of poor families would have definitely decreased. But that was not the case. Generally, there was a striking difference between male and female poverty: for men poverty usually resulted from unemployment and finding a job could solve all their financial problems, but female poverty frequently existed eve if a woman was working whole day long. In fact, all women were vulnerable because in case of divorce or widowhood they were at high risk of poverty.
The American Dream was failing for women. They thought they would do their part, manage the house, raise the kids, support the husband, perhaps do some volunteer work and, in later days, perhaps get some recognition and secure retirement, maybe even travel. But they found out it is not that way – the dream was crashing down. Women’ identity as a career homemaker no longer fit and females became a part of invisible group of previously dependent women who now faced economic discrimination, poverty, and humiliation. Women also realized another important thing: housework is not valued as a job experience, even though housewives hold down many jobs – money manager, childcare worker, cook, nurse, repair person, recreation worker. The paid jobs women could hold before marrying or earlier in the marriage were often low-status, low-paid jobs such as domestic work.
Virginia Woolf was one of those who discussed the topic of women fighting for social and economic equality in the sphere of literature. Men didn’t take women seriously as peers. They expected from them to make sacrifices, don’t have any personal opinions and only care about their beauty. Men advised women to use their gender advantages to succeed in life: to flatter, to deceive and to be sympathetic. Female charm was the only thing that gave them power. Virginia Woolf argued that all female writers are to discuss the position of a woman within the society in their works (n. d.).
To conclude with, the American Dream is an important concept people still believe in. It is a dream of living in a country where life is richer and happier, where every person has an opportunity to achieve something and to have a life he or she has mused about. It simply means that America is a land where you can turn your dreams into reality, where there are no obstacles and nothing is holding you back. So, if you work hard, you can make money and become successful. Is the American Dream really for everyone? Of course, no. Segregation and discrimination directed towards women, African Americans and immigrants were and are still effective tools that bar people from equal opportunities and chances in all spheres.