“If you build it, they will come” is one of the lines from A Field of Dreams. I wonder if this is an idea that, in some form, ran through the minds of the Founding Fathers as they set forth to build a new country based on a different form of government? Those men and women built a foundation – and people came. People came from all over the world. Some came by choice while others did not, but each of those that arrived had a dream.
The American Dream.
My great, great grandfather came from Croatia via Canada. I wonder about his dreams as he sailed from home, by himself, and lived aboard ship for years. What did he think as he entered Canada, made his way to LA, and finally set roots in the great southwest to build a life and make his mark on this country? He left his family and everything he knew in Europe. For him, building a new life involved swat and hard work; good times and bad. He didn’t have the “networks” that we rely upon so heavily now. The government did not offer him support of any kind. Success or failure rested upon his shoulders. I wonder if he ever felt like giving up or whether it occurred to him to move back to Europe? I will never know. I do know that he built a life, a business, and helped to build a city. Hard work, sweat, and a dream… perhaps the American dream?
Things have changed since my family arrived in this country, but has the American dream changed?
Listening to kids I would say that yes, the Dream has changed. Kids now dream of marriage and houses and jobs and cars. Their dreams largely appear to be lifestyle based. I don’t hear kids talk about dropping everything they know to move to another country and start again on their own. Here, in my little part of Northern Virginia, I don’t hear kids talk about wanting a better life, obtaining an education, or having any different than their parents. Then again, I am not sure that I have heard many adults dream differently than the kids.
So, is the American dream the house with the yard and the 2.5 kids and the white picket fence and the happy hours and soccer games and the comfort that comes with security and stability? Is it knowing that there is no need to risk anything or take a chance because there is a safety net? Is the American dream something now defined by society over the individual American? Is it now about having the “same” as the guy next door and the person down the street?
The American dream, as I understand it, involved taking risks to make a better life; taking chances to build something different. The risks a century ago were far higher than they are today, and yet many ventured forth in the hopes that they would find success.
I sit in my comfortable chair in my cozy and colorful office fully acknowledging that I changed my own dreams. Where I am now is not where I thought I would be as I neared 40. I consider my own version of the American dream. I never dreamed of houses with white picket fences and cars and dogs and the 2.5 kids. I wanted something different from the beginning – a life that reflected my passions and interests. The profession has not materialized (but it still could or be something very different) but the dream has blossomed.
My American dream spins on her toes and tucks curls behind her ears. She lets the waves carry her back to shore before she takes off, running down the beach as if she was born on the sands of Coronado.
My American dream is one that I created and one that I continue to choose and define. It is not the dream held by society or many Americans or even my friends and family. It is mine – and now it involves supporting my daughter to see that she too can dream her own American dream and dance to her music.
Like my forefathers, I am standing on my own, making choices and working to live my dream based on my own hard work and sweat. I might live more comfortably than they did. I might have an easier life than they enjoyed. I also know that I have those safety nets waiting for me if I fall.
Like those that landed on American soil before me, I am defining my own dreams and creating my own way – and I am teaching my daughter to do the same. Perhaps the American dream has changed and is changing as we enter the 21st century, but in my house and in my life the dream remains… hard work, taking chances, believing in ideas, actively making choices, and realizing that risk and hope are two amazingly beautiful 4 letter words.