Tragic deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Serious allegations of police brutality, racial inequalities, injustice, intolerance, and discrimination. The great political divide. Gas lighting of issues. ‘Black Lives Matter’ protestors versus ‘All Lives Matter’ counter- protestors. Citizens fighting and killing each other. Turbulent turmoil in the society aggravated by the widening chasm of the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’. Calculated acts of arson and violence in cities. The growing economic, health, and social disparities during the protracted pandemic. Disproportionate deaths of Blacks, Hispanics and American Indians from COVID-19. Drugs, AIDS, and senseless violence in Black and Hispanic ghettos. This endless list may make many wonder “Withering of the American Dream?” and some to declare “The American Dream is Dead”. This cannot possibly happen; I will not let it happen under my watch. I am an eternal optimist and will not let naysayers kill my concept of the Great American Dream. The ‘Present’ may be chaotic, choppy, and wobbly but I believe that we have the latitude and willingness to right the course and charter a bright future.
The American Dream has many connotations. According to James Adams, the historian who coined the term, “The American Dream is 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.” He further states that the aspirational dream is more of a goal for everyone, regardless of their background for “each man and woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and recognized by others for what they are.” Envisioning a world without prejudice, entitlement, and discrimination, the American Dream originated as a ‘holy grail’ and a ‘glorious goal’ rolled into one wherein every citizen has equal opportunity to realize their values and aspirations, while harnessing natural talents and acquired skillsets. However, as time progressed, the focus shifted to striving to attain material prosperity and success, digressing from the previously coveted ideals of societal equality and mutual celebrations of success. Stemming from aggressive advertising ploys during the 1970s, the strong association between homeownership and the ‘patriotic’ American Dream was effectively ingrained into the minds of Americans. With the advent of technology and greater commoditization, the ‘Dream’ for some translated to greater desire to buy luxury goods! As time progressed, the indicators of ‘dream achievement’ have transformed into a rather materialistic question, enquiring “How great is your purchasing power?”
Around the world, America is perceived to be the ‘single great destination’ to translate one’s aspirations into reality. This global perception can be mainly attributed to the meritocratic system that nurtures the ‘best and the brightest’ talents from around the world and rewards key traits of diligence, grit, perseverance, and leadership. Satya Nadella, Eric Yuan, Sergie Brin, and Sundar Pichai came to the US from humble backgrounds, yet now are atop leading global technology conglomerates. These executives serve as quintessential achievers of the American Dream, a core value and a brilliant idea that drives innumerable immigrants to migrate to this country. The desire for opportunity and the drive to succeed have been consistent throughout American history, evident through the resulting diversity which is so central to the “melting pot” that is the United States.
With 2 suitcases and a one-way plane ticket in hand, my father left his village in India to the US, in pursuit of opportunities, resources, and successes that characterize the so-called
“American Dream”. Leaving his family and home, he placed his faith in the foundational American pledge to uphold “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”. Arriving in Boston as a research fellow, he ‘burnt the midnight oil’ to be able to master advanced medicine in the US. With great patience, persistence, and hard work, he was able to study and do research at prestigious universities. Approaching every task with zeal and honesty, he quickly advanced within the meritocratic system, earning a Professorship at a young age. He now works to save countless lives and serves as a valuable mentor to younger aspiring doctors, inspiring many to pursue medical research and strive to selflessly give back to the society.
With the American middle-class shrinking from increasing costs of housing, education, and healthcare, marginalized communities become poorer and successive generations find it increasingly difficult to pursue their goals. Recognizing these undeniable socioeconomic disparities, along with my peer, I joined the leadership of a prominent community development center in an underserved Hispanic neighborhood. I interacted with community members, leaders, and fellow youth through volunteering, board meetings, and advocacy. Through these interconnections, I found that in addition to the low income of households, the standard of living and perceived safety of residents were subpar. In schools, students found it difficult to concentrate due to normalized misbehavior and classroom disruption. Witnessing first-hand the inequality and adversity that my fellow peers experienced inspired me to co-found Un Paso Adelante (One Step Forward). The organization serves to provide key empowering opportunities to the youth such as reconditioning elderly homes and development of public spaces through city-level advocacy. We facilitated workshops and cooperative meetings to effectively articulate thoughts and ideas, equipping the community youth with effectual communication and powerful leadership skills requisite to succeed in their future endeavors. Demonstrated through these efforts, I strongly believe in the “American Dream” that truly ensures equal opportunity, regardless of background and devoid of societal prejudice.
The framework of the great Constitution, impartial judiciary, powerful national institutions, and fundamentals of the ‘Society’ that sustain and promote the American Dream are strong and healthy. It requires the fountain of citizenry to make it work for all of us. It is our collective responsibility to build Dr. King’s “oasis of freedom and justice” and “the table of brotherhood”. To this end, I am willing to offer “blood, toil, tears and sweat” in the words of the great statesman, Winston Churchill. Come forth, for a united front is imperative in achieving the “American Dream” of inclusiveness and equity.