When & How The American Dream Died for You?

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doug shaeffer, turtle island (1966)

it may have died in 3rd grade when i refused to recite the pledge of allegiance, but it was never a dream for me, i just knew instinctively the pledge of allegiance was hollow and coercive. i don't know how i knew at 7, and now i have fifty more years of the antics of empire in my cognitive apparatus, and now i know what knew but didn't know i knew then.

Marsha McDonald, American (2020)

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, demagoguery 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?

Luis Barcelo, Cuban (1990)

I was already struggling with the American Dream having recently read the Autobiography of Malcolm X when the US invaded Panama. I was in my first year of college and openly protested the war when I was told by classmates that if I didn’t like this country I should get out. I was so angry because my parents gave up everything in their homeland for the idea of freedom, only to have their son be told that freedom was only meant for those who follow the status quo.

Hench E. M. Smith, Un-American (2000)

The American Dream died in 2000 when the Supreme Court appointed a madman president. His junta turned America into a cannibal nation. Imperialist bloodshed does not condone dreams. It demands nightmares.

Lucas, Hispanic (Yes) (2004)

In my second go at art school, none of the previous credits transferred prior to 2002 and that school paid off. I was told if I wanted to enroll, I had to sign the paper. Signed it. Starting over my credits and was "pretty talented" wanted to join the interdisciplinary path for my 3rd year, already taking most of the courses. Director of the painting dept denied my request. Life & all happened, school and work both FT. I finally broke, left school 2004 and still paying just for signing a paper.

Mowgli Olenason, Borders are the death of humanity (2001)

Seeing the absurdities of the worldwide US military involvement, and with 9/11 exposed the racial power structures in such a profound way, highlighting the need for profit over a human life. And lo' and behold, from hobby lobby to the White House we're being shown that We, the people, have to protest for basic truths and safeties on our own soil? The guardians have turned to gluttons, be it nationalistic or capitalistic, and such uncaring natures can only lead to calamitous ruin.

Oliver Henry, American (2008)

2008 was the year I moved out of home to attend college. The experience of education was life changing, as was the $60k debt I accrued attending a college that cost $200k for a 4 year degree. I was fortunate to have obtained a 160k in scholarship money but it was not enough. I am now educated enough to see how the world could be but straddled with too much debt to take advantage of it. I’ve paid $500 a month for the last 8 years and am still 60k in debt.

Lee Rossi, Meso-European (1965)

The ’60’s were a terrible decade. All my heroes, MLK, Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X, were murdered. They were too radical, a real challenge to what we then called the System but now call White Supremacy. Looking back, the death of Malcolm affected me most. More than the preacher’s son or the wealthy bootlegger’s son, he embodied the Dream, jailbird to voice of his people. His murder meant that the Dream was just window dressing for the grim facts of racial and economic oppression.

Lynnda Pardoe, Mixed (2020)

When I lost my position of ten years due to the gross ineptitude of the Covid response. Am now unable to find new employment, due to an issue with age discrimination in hiring. I went through undergrad and grad school hoping for the dream of an independent life. Being self sufficient shouldn’t be an unattainable dream for the citizens of any country.

Thomas Vannatter, American (2009)

I'm now 40, still paying on student loans after being denied multiple times the PSLF forgiveness, unable to purchase a house or have any savings despite or perhaps because of my Masters Degree that I received in 2009 at the height of the Great Recession. I have since resigned myself that I will never be able to retire, that my retirement plan will likely be to spend my final years struggling to survive. We were told that education would better ourselves, instead it showed me the game is rigged.

Sarah, US citizen: 2nd gen dad’s side; DAR mom’s side (2008)

We married young with nothing. He got a teaching job. I got a salesclerk job b/c I didn’t have a college degree. Over the years he got an MBA (paid by an accident settlement from which he still has pain). He worked his way up in business; I finished my degree & worked as a freelance copy editor while raising our son. We lived frugally and saved like heck for college & retirement. Paid $1500+/mo for health insurance we never used. Losing ~40% in ‘08 killed the dream; Trump/Covid buried it.

Sandy Sanders, Caucasian (1967)

I believed in my conservative parents. My schools. Our newspapers & news programs. My community, friends & peers. The existing system was fair, with difficulties, but politics was the fix. 16, a high school sophomore, my American History professor spilled the beans on racist American slavery, Indigenous genocide, Federalist anti-democracy, the Robber Baron's Gilded Age, ruthless capitalist Empire and wall-to-wall inequality & war. Now 2020, nothing has changed except the obviousness of it all.

orestes gonzalez, Cuban /American (2018)

The American Dream died when I realized the advent of Social Media replaced real, unbiased journalism in shaping peoples views and the information they receive. This has deeply eroded our way of gathering real facts and making decisions in an unbiased manner. It has eroded our not-perfect democratic system opened the road to fascism.

Theodora Bliedung Beal, U.S. (1962)

A field trip to Puerto Rico for NY college students, I spent the week in Toa Alta, living with a warm family. Daily trips with a barrio organizer to meet communities solving problems together. At the end of the week, I rejoined students and our respected leaders at a 4-star San Juan hotel. The doorman bowed to us students to enter, barked at our leaders: "Food in the back for you." I saw my privilege, my class opportunities, my white skin is an American nightmare for the poor.

Jerry Allison, USA (2020)

As a poor white kid who got to go to college and get an MFA (despite being told "Art is for the Rich") I thought I was doing OK - despite all the racist classist imperialist stuff, I was surviving. One day I told a Trumpie, that taking toddler children away from their asylum seeking mothers and locking them in concrete cages was "Nazi stuff and should be prosecuted". He told me "You should stick a shotgun up your ass cause that's where your brains are". That day the American Dream died for me.

Kate Hughes, American (2010)

The Dream died for me when I began to peer at its silent shadow: the landfills, the poverty, the racism, the profits over the people.

Julia Justo, Argentinian (2002)

The American dream died for me when I realized that after working 50 hours a week I was not able to save and invest in my future. Most of my salary was going to pay the cost of housing and I did not even have enough to cover medical expenses, sad situation specially taking in consideration I'm college educated.

Montserrat Vargas, Chilean (2011)

During my first weeks in the EEUU, another immigrant wanted to share the best advice he thought he could give me: "Here, cats and dogs have more rights than us, even more papers, more documentation. Be careful. You work hard and give back but you are worth nothing." I decided to hand embroider and painted a Social Security card made of recycled fabric and cardboard, to remember.

ED GARRIDO, Afro Dominican American (1988)

My mother was sworn in and we all become US citizens sometime in the early 2000's. I remember being upset that my mom was dragging me along, I felt like it was more her dream than it was mine. I kept wondering if it would now be cool for my friends and I to ride our bikes into the neighboring towns without being harassed by police, I mean we were all Americans now. But I didn't need to take the oath to know where I stood as a Young Black Latino American, I felt it everyday. No love lost though.

Kevin Smith, United States (2016)

I think it is rather obvious but for political reasons I can not say any more. That is really how and why the Dream died. Because we are so divided we can no longer debate each other, nor respect each other's boundaries. It is a sad commentary on the state of affairs in our nation. We deal with all nations and at no time in my nearly 30 years here have I seen us so divided and ridiculed as it is now. We can not attain our dreams if we can not respect each other. It is time to heal.

Maria Lopez, Colombiana (2014)

We all have different American Dreams. Mine was undefined. Mine is still undefined because I don't see myself fit in anywhere. Immigrating to NJ from Colombia when I was 6, and growing up in the midst of so many cultures, constantly redefines the reason of my being and the development of this country--as two things so close but yet so distant.

Stephanie Garrison, United States of America (2014)

Working at the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, I learned his successful American Dream story coming from a working-class, immigrant family, and I saw that those opportunities didn't exist anymore, not for me, not for anyone I knew, even though I grew up middle-class and got an education. We address the death of the American Dream in our interpretation of Andy's art and encourage visitors to consider why, and how it died, and what that means for our country.

catalina melo, Colombian, USA (2001)

the dream died upon arrival to graduate school, it was the first day and one of the higher ups made a joke about me being a drug trafficker during a meeting in front of my new classmates. after that, i could barely look at anyone in the eye. since then, it has been a long journey of facing shame, micro or macro aggressions, humiliation, jokes about cocaine, or being put down every time people find out where i come from. at the beginning i just hid, now, i have gathered courage and pride.

Agustina Perez, Mexican American (2018)

I am part of the First Generation, First Woman to graduate College, & first women in my family with a professional job. My success is my parents story. In 2018, while i was in Washington DC at a Latino Conference, ICE went into my home & took my mom. After years of my parents teaching us that America would love / respect us with a higher education... I realize no amount of degree will buy the honor / respect my undocumented family deserve The American Dream died the second they handcuffed mom.

Franklin Peña, Dominican (2016)

The first day I landed in Los Angeles. I realized the concept 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 expected to develop sustainability outside the realm of manual labor. It was the day my soul split in two. My disappointment and ambitions exist within each other in my pursuit of happiness. My American dream died but not my desire to be great.

Justin, USA (2016)

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.

MG, Irish/American (1984)

The naive movie American Dream died for me as soon as I went to college and realized that no amount of hard work can guarantee success when you make bad choices and waste huge amounts of money on degrees that offer poor careers. I grow up fast and realized the American Dream is what you make of it not what anyone gives you, I worked hard, saved hard, struggled to make good decisions, built a career on my state college Computer Science degree and after 27 years retired @55 w/ a modest 45k/yr

B Watson, USA (2019)

I never know how far down the path of necrosis the US had gotten until I moved out of the country for a few years. At this distance you can clearly see the lesions and sores all across the rolls of pallid flesh. I thought, like many others, that we had reached some sort of civic enlightenment after Obama was elected, but the cancer of hate and bigotry was just in temporary remission gathering its strength while the emperor donned his new clothes.

David Vermillion, American (2015)

A one-two punch. First, when I realized that my colleagues and I were "stuck," and wouldn't ever move up, because they didn't start out knowing the right people. But we had good jobs, so I still believed. The final blow was when someone patiently explained how black people FEAR FOR THEIR LIVES when they're pulled over by the cops, and what that feels like. I knew as a white person, it was never something I had to think about. It died there and things are only worse since.

Kevin Chan, USA (1982)

That version of the American Dream where immigrants expect to see gold-paved streets died the second I arrived in 1982 to my roach-infested, crime ridden apartment next to a crack house. But that was the death of a naive dream. The truer version may be ugly with its mix of unfair struggle and unimaginable sacrifice but it's NOT DEAD. I and millions of other immigrants have achieved it and are prospering because life in the US is INFINITELY better than some of places we fled.

Rachel, Puerto Rican (1992)

The American dream was never meant for me. I realized really early on that no matter how hard I worked, how well I did in school or in my job, how nice or put together I was, I would always be "less than."

Mariana Ramos-Ortiz, Puerto Rican (1931)

The American Dream was born dead in Puerto Rico. El Sueño Americano nació muerto en Puerto Rico. Year of Death: 1898

Anjelic E Owens, Black & Latina (2017)

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.

Nontsikelelo Mutiti, Zimbabwe (2009)

Pronounced dead on arrival.

Levi Cruz, Salvadorian (2020)

My name is Levi Cruz, I’m 26 years old. Now I’m in an ICE facility far away from my family. I don’t know when I’ll be release or if I get deported. All I’m doing now is sitting thinking what is going to happen with my case and the American dream that I once dream off. I don’t feel it is right for ICE to have people detained. With the Covid-19 going on they should let us be with our family. I just need that one chance to prove that I deserve to be free and live the American dream with my family.

Heriberto Paredes Coronel, Mexican (2019)

The U.S.-Mexico border has been a hotbed of violence for many years. In 2019 I was doing interviews and taking some pictures with people who flee the violence in my country, they arrive at the border with the United States thinking that they will find a humanitarian treatment, refuge, security. But what they find is rejection, racism, more violence and inhumane treatment. They arrive looking for the American Dream and what they will find is the American Nightmare. I am a Mexican journalist.

oumy diaw, Senegalese-American (2008)

It died when I realized too late that the kind of hostilities I experienced in my professional environment was because of my skin color and gender. I wasn't born or raised in USA. So American racism was unknown to me. There are codes, American racism has specific codes and culture. From discrimination, to humiliations, stereotyping in emails, blackmail using your immigration status to "tame you". It is fellow Americans that opened my eyes. In 2016, Donald Trump killed the American Dream again...

Elizabeth Spavento, American (2019)

The American Dream died when I realized that it was always only a dream for some Americans. Specifically white Americans, like myself. I knew this truth internally, but I chose to ignore it. I was anaesthetized to its insidiousness, silent and unmoved like a coma patient: alive but not living, propped up by elaborate systems of private and public interests that ensured my life remained vital, comfortable. I’m not sure if the American Dream is dead or just on life support but I can hear its death

Nevena Dzamonja, Bosnian (2008)

I was raised by a Communist single-mother who never made over 40k, and I grew up a Punk, so I was always very aware of class and inequality. When I got to college I realized I was always going to be stuck behind people who never had to work restaurant and service jobs, who never had to pay their own bills or loans, who could endlessly intern for no pay, whose parents paid for their studios and equipment, and that I would always have to hustle twice as hard just to be at the table.

Ana Rendich, Argentinian-America (2007)

The horrible opinions about the Spanish Language : the conclusions based in prejudice, without reasoning and understanding of the richness and immense importance of all the contributions that writers, poets, essayist, academics... brought to the world. The underestimation and ignorance about who we are. That was my first realization of the social thinking and moral flaws in this country, how Latinos were perceived. It was not only about the Spanish Language, but all what this issue has implied.

Dimitri Winchester, White (2014)

Right around the time I learned I was queer and understanding that no matter what I did or what I had I would not and did not want to fit into the “american model” it took me an even longer time to truly see how many ways that the American dream would never become a reality to those who were not born with hundreds of thousands of dollars. The sooner we all realize that there is not one single American dream and that everyone can have their own.

Luis A. Vázquez O’Neill, Puerto Rican / Cuban (2017)

It is October 4th, 14 days have passed since María made landfall and 1 day since president Trump threw paper towels at a crowd. We are working endless hours to get the help from our one side of the island to the other. I was asked to join some reporters to cover the story of bodies piling up in the morgue. Later that night they mami handed the news, papi was found dead in his bathroom, he was there for days and my sister was the first to smell his discomposed body from outside his house. Miss U.

Rebecca Miralrio, Mexican American (2005)

Sometime around the age of 5 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.

Francie Scanlon, American Irish (1955)

March 12, 1955, in the luxury suite of a Countess holding court in the Fifth Avenue Stanhope Hotel, CHARLIE PARKER exited this plane. His body was so ravaged by racism, ruthless rules stacked against him and repulsion at the 1950s American landscape, this phenomenal 20th century Artist was viewed by the attending physician as being at least in his late 50s when he was 34! Born 29 August, 1920, his entire Life span should have been a BIRD SUITE for his second Pandemic @ 100. Myths die hard.

Perla de Leon, Puerto Rican-Cuban-American (1964)

I attended Catholic schools where nuns humiliated students whose parents contributed small change during Sunday mass because they were poor. That police and people in privileged positions were racist and classist was a daily experience but when nuns were brutally condescending, shamed you in public and told you that you would never succeed, it was both startling and a gift, as it taught us, early in life, that the American Dream was reserved for very few people.

Christian Martir, Puerto Rican (1979)

The day I was born, in an American colony.

Maya, American (2013)

In 2013 while in school for my undergrad degree. I realized how elitist people in higher education are. My parents are both immigrants but with multiple degrees. People would assume because I am first generation my parents are janitors or own a store or something. I worked my ass off working 2 jobs and going to school just so that people could continue to project those beliefs on me. When I worked an office job people didn’t even think I worked in the office, assumed I was a cleaner or caterer.

Darice Polo, American, Puerto Rican (1959)

The fact that Puerto Rico is not listed under nationality for this project, especially one funded by El Museo, in an ironic way exemplifies the tragic illusion of the American Dream for Puerto Ricans and the Puerto Rican diaspora.

Ayasha, American (2019)

The American dream died when scarcity politics replaced hope in the power of collective demands. So many people *couldn’t afford* to protest the conditions that produced their own precarity. I left when it seemed the nation was numb to this crisis and revolution was a lost cause. But now I see new dreams growing in the U.S. -People realizing that a seat at the table where “you can’t sit with us” won’t protect them after all, and that true power is with the people who gather to build their own.

Chat Travieso, Cuban-Venezuelan-American (2020)

The American Dream, who had been missing for the past three months after prosecutors opened a fraud investigation into their business, was found dead today of an overdose in their home. Investigators have uncovered a trove of incriminating evidence placing the American Dream at the center of a massive Ponzi Scheme that defrauded countless over centuries. In November 2016, the American Dream’s sibling, American Exceptionalism, committed suicide after they were found guilty of criminal conspiracy.

June Canedo, Brazilian, American (1989)

When I visited Brazil for the first time as an adult alone because I was the only one in my family with U.S. citizenship. I walked into a large room full of crying strangers who I'd known as a child. I spent hours hugging and kissing all of them on behalf of the rest of our family who remain undocumented in the U.S.

Zahira Shaalan, American (1984)

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 as 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.

daisy vazquez, American (2015)

The dream died for me when I thought I was making enough to finally get my family out of NYC public housing. But I couldn't afford to buy what we needed. I called the management of a building labeled as affordable housing in NYC and they told me I didn't make enough. Even the rent for the housing lotteries could be argued as affordable, and the one time I finally got a response I was told I could only afford a 2br, which is what I already live in. I gave up believing I could own a home.

Laura Blanco, American (2020)

My American Dream is currently on life support. It will hopefully be resuscitated in November.

Mitchell Banks, American (1959)

I was on a family trip to Albany, N.Y. and was really struck by the level of poverty I was seeing. I asked my mother why, and she said that was how black people lived. I felt she couldn't be right since the maintenance man at the hotel (who was black) was really nice and took time to talk to me. I thought he would want to live the same way I did-in a house, with a yard-in a place I felt safe.

Lizania Cruz, Dominican (2020)

For me, the American Dream had terminal cancer but died of Covid-19 complications. It was through the pandemic that I realized the failure of our current value on work and individualism. I knew the system wasn’t created for a person like me but, somehow, I believed the idea that through my hard work and my exceptionalism I could make it through. As we were all forced to pause, I could see clearly that I was wrong.