The American Dream is a dream of freedom, of opportunity, of a fair chance at happiness. We have national dreams, familial ones, and the personal ones deep in our hearts. At their best, these dreams motivate us toward better lives, advanced education, and improved circumstance. At their worst, the American dream can become an illusionary chase, a myth that paralyzes action and stalls reform. But where do our American dreams come from, and how can we understand them today?
In some ways, I’m the poster child of the American Dream mythology. I came from rural poverty, with parents who held no higher degree than high school diplomas. As a first-generation college student, I faced the unknowns of university life and managed to make it into a graduate program. I currently belong in a higher economic and social class than my parents, and will likely achieve greater financial success over my lifetime. My life, so far, is proof that anyone can ‘make it in America.’
But, my success is not solely from ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ ingenuity and perseverance. I do not accept the Horatio Alger myth of the American self-made man. My success arose in the intersection of luck, opportunity, and the gifts of others. I must acknowledge the social privilege I was born into as a white woman, which allowed me to pass through many situations unchallenged. We cannot consider the state of American success without understanding the privileges and barriers of race, gender, sexuality, religion and nationality. Nor is anyone solely determined by these elements of their identity. An individual’s success is the result of both opportunities and barriers, those who stalled us and those that helped us. I credit my success to years of free public education, to government-sponsored enrichment programs like Upward Bound and McNair, to the generous scholarships and grants that enabled me to pay the high costs of higher education. I was lucky that my determination was met with the right opportunities. But many of my peers were not as lucky and remain in rural poverty, undereducated and underrepresented. Poverty’s nature is cyclical, and without sufficient education, guidance, and job prospects, many remain where they are, barely making it by paycheck to paycheck. The blame cannot be easily assigned to any one party, though if we look at the disparities of wages between executives and factory workers, we certainly get a sense of the financial barriers that allow some to succeed and others to ‘fail.’ Just as we must not forget that others have helped us get where we are, we must be equally willing to critique those who stand in the way of our dreams.
In the national discussion of economic and social inequalities, we need to consider what kinds of American dreams are possible today. We live in a culture that glorifies the success of the rich, yet we rarely question the social conditions that made their success possible and others’ impossible. In this issue of The Orris, we challenge you to think about the American dream not in the singular, but in the plural. Let’s help each other bring our dreams into reality.
Issue Two will be released in installments every Tuesday and Friday.
Table of contents:
Letter from the Editor
“The Saddest Story” – Nick Willette
“Big Brows” – Zoey Farber
Poetry by Jefferson Riordian:
“A Dream Deferred”- Ashley Jean Hight
“The American Dream”- Megan McCormick
“Who Touched my Occu-pie?” – Lyngia and Nuxia
Our American Dream Recommendations – Orris Contributors