James Truslow Adams coined the term American Dream in his 1931 book: The Epic of America. “…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. …It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are…”
Ah… The American Dream! It’s been around quite a while; certainly earlier than Adams’ 1931 interpretation. It arrived on our shores in the hearts and minds of millions of immigrants looking for those elusive streets of gold.
These days we hear the American Dream tossed about by: we who pursue instant wealth in lieu of thrift and hard work; we who no longer believe in its premise; we who exploit it; terrorism that begrudge us its assurance; educational systems that debate or debunk it; immigration policies that don’t address it; politicians who guarantee it; religions that give no voice to it, and those quiet fears spoken in America’s neighborhoods that warn “…it is dying.”
At the core of the American Dream are its immigrants, our forefathers and mothers who wanted to escape religious, racial and political persecution, or seek relief from a lack of economic opportunity or famine. In the beginning contract labor agreements offered by recruiting agents drew immigrants to fill a need for workers in coal mines, steel plants and all trades: America’s Melting Pot. I grew up in a large family of English and Italian immigrants, all coal miners. My grandparents informed me; more than once, “…We work hard to make a better life. This is our legacy to you.” Each of us shares in this generational legacy begun by hardworking immigrants who for centuries carved out their place in the American Dream.
Maybe, instead of our political system of two opposite elements that like tungsten when it reaches its highest melting point, no one dares to touch it. Not unlike politics really, rhetoric and promises heat up but consensus is never reached… And another election cycle begins. Ah, if only there were something called the American Dream, you know the one: the one that comes down on the side of the people.
Or, perhaps like our other dreams, upon waking we no longer hear the voices of our immigrant ancestors who ask: “What happened?”