Born in 1978 I grew up in poverty. I graduated high school at 15, had a child at 16 and went to college when I was 21. I’ve worked for state and federal government for almost 20 years and have too little to show for it. Without family support I took out student loans that have crippled me ever since. No assets, less than $60k in retirement, five kids, and a doctoral degree that pays less than an RN. How is my dream even a dream at this point? It’s only a wish. …
When the auto plant where both I and my husband worked closed in 2008.
He was able to move to another plant; I regret to say that I took a buyout to go back to school. Now, multiple degrees later, I earn less than half of what I did as a skilled trades person with a good union job. I have a master’s degree and I love my job as a public librarian, but if anything happened to my husband I would be unable to support myself.
The first day I landed in Los Angeles. I realized the concepts of inclusion and progression didn’t have me or my people in mind. I realized my community is expected to work for others but never develop sustainability outside the realm of manual labor. It was the day my soul split in two. My disappointment and ambitions exist within my pursuit of happiness. My American dream died, but not my desire to be great.
When I saw the wage breakout for my company.
My boss made $400k while the average worker made $35k. The death, though, was the year he decided not to award raises or bonuses to anyone but himself. He took the entire $300k pool of money that should have been divided between the employees, and then told everyone the company was struggling.
The day I realized that now matter how hard I work, or how smart and educated I am, as a Black woman in America I will always be perceived as invisible.
New York, N.Y.
When I became aware of the fact that my family was considered “illegal.”
My childhood consisted of me fearing “la migra” and having terrible anxiety over the fact that I could someday be separated from my parents and siblings.
My American dream was that one day females will feel confident enough to walk the streets wearing whatever they feel like it without having to look over their shoulder every few seconds because they feel unsafe. This dream died a long time ago because I realized that no matter what you wear you will always be objectified.
Growing up in a low-income household I took pride in stretching a dollar. I grew used to thrifted clothes (before they were cool) and discount grocery stores. My parents put so much weight on my education, as if my grades could save me from the systemic racism I would face. My awareness of my class was heightened once I moved to New York for grad school. I got caught in the never-ending cycle of working to afford my materials to make my art while not having the time to make my art because of work.
My dreamscape is dying. Growing up in South Florida, I had the privilege of breathing salty air and visiting the Florida Keys, where I first saw a coral reef. The ocean was an endless source of inspiration, and I thought it could never be altered fundamentally. Then around 2005 I learned about how the water is becoming more acidic, the corals are slowly burning to death, and people are to blame. A dying planet kills all dreams.
When we realized that my wife and I would not be able to pay our property and school taxes when we retire.
We both work hard, we pay our taxes, we live modestly, and New York State is forcing us to sell our home because of high taxes. We both grew up seeking the American dream and now it has turned into a nightmare. We love our home. Our children grew up here. We worked on the property to make it nice and livable and don’t want to sell. But, we will be forced to sell.
The day I was born, in [Puerto Rico,] an American colony.
The American dream died for me the day I entered kindergarten. Before that, I was an incredibly bright child, self-assured and besotted with learning. In this environment, I learned how inequality is transmitted from one generation to the next. I was “taught” that my existence was problematic. I was labeled unintelligent, inferior, less, terms all interchangeable with Black, brown and female. I emerged with some aspect of myself intact, albeit cast into a woke state of American dreamlessness.
New York, N.Y.
In many ways, I am the American dream. The multiracial son of a South Asian immigrant and a white Southerner, I’ve made it from childhood in a lower-income apartment complex to a flourishing career and spacious apartment in Manhattan. But the satisfaction of that has been crushed these past four years — and especially this year. The willful ignorance and persistent racism of a large swath of my countrymen have destroyed any appreciation for this country. My goal is to emigrate in my near future.
Lancaster County, Pa.
When I realized I was a gay man and that my country treated me as a second-class citizen.
It was illegal for me to marry, have a family, or to have any expectation of being accepted by society. In some places I could even be arrested. Thankfully some great strides have been made since my childhood, but the scars remain. In many ways I will always feel like an outcast, or “less than.”
South Lake Tahoe, Calif.
I am white, awakening from my American dream. My childhood and teens seem a fantasy, each year starting in autumn at excellent schools and concluding with bright days of summer at the beach. A public university prepared me for a profession that turned away all who did not look like me. I stirred in 1968 and 1994, and opened my eyes in 2020 and wept in anger.
The American dream died for me when I realized just how many of my fellow Americans valued selfishness over community, power over justice, prejudice over fairness, greed over generosity, demagogy over science. For me, the 2020 pandemic is very real, but also a metaphor. How sick our national soul is! The old dream should pass away. Isn’t it time for us to dream new dreams, better dreams, that include us all?
When I realized that as a woman I will never be considered a person by the majority of men.
The American dream doesn’t exist for anyone who isn’t white and male. It died when I realized I’d always have to work three jobs to make ends meet. It dies every time some MAN introduces legislation to strip bodily autonomy away from everyone who isn’t a MAN. It died when I realized that as a woman I will never be considered a person by the majority of men. It dies with the planet, which has been brutalized in the name of capital. The American dream is a fantasy.
Salt Lake City
I worked at Denny’s when I was 14 and was close to a server in her 40s. Tammy was in nursing school in between serving shifts, and she easily worked 50 hours a week. She was celebrating during one of my shifts because the manager let her park her car overnight in the parking lot. This was cause for celebration because she lived in her car and would now be close to a bathroom and lights. Her medications and schooling ate her paycheck, and she was homeless. That was when my American dream died.
The American dream died for me when I realized our allegiance to the myth of rugged individualism has completely overwhelmed our willingness and ability to lift others up. It seems we have decided there is only so much pie available, so we better get what we can without realizing that in buying into a zero sum game, we have made a bargain that not only limits our own ability to thrive but prevents others from doing so as well.
New York City
When I saw the president of the United States mock a disabled person
I saw the president of my country make fun of my infant daughter who had only recently suffered a stroke. I saw how hard her future would be, thanks to the president of my country.
I was born in the U.S., in 1934. My childhood was heavily influenced by WWII and the unique experiences of growing up on the “home front.” My upper-middle-class family sent me and my siblings to quality colleges of our choice. I experienced the sexual revolution, the civil rights movement, Kennedy and King murders, Vietnam, Nixon, Cheney. Trump is a kick in the head and a punch to my gut. I am deeply saddened, disappointed, and frightened to learn that 40 percent of my fellow Americans approve of his presidency.
When I became a teacher
I knew that I was entering a challenging and unappreciated profession, but I never realized how much. I teach social studies and have two master’s degrees, while my husband and I live with my parents to save on costs. The American dream died as I realized that, with all of the privilege I’ve had and work I’ve put in, there was no value in passing on my education to the next generation, who desperately will need intellectual strength.