The American Dream
The Statue of Liberty has symbolized freedom since the 19th century. She has represented hope for a better life and has epitomized the American dream: that every person, regardless of religion, race, social class or background should be able to pursue their own happiness. The Statue served as a beacon of hope, welcoming those in need into her arms. Etched in bronze on Lady Liberty’s pedestal reads:
"Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door."
Those words and their promise inspired many to leave behind their homes, and immigrate to the United States. One of these immigrants was Hannelore Vest.
Born in 1928, Vest grew up during Nazi Germany. She turned 18 at the end of the war and knew she could not live the life she wanted in Germany. Within two weeks, with only one suitcase, 20 franks, and speaking only German, she left her entire family to move to Canada.
She managed to find work at a bakery and later as a travel companion for a wealthy woman. Later that year, she moved to the United States and eventually married a man in the Army, before settling in Alexandra, Virginia.
“As the years went on, everything changed, I adapted. I had children and I made my home here. I would never
leave it again, I enjoy it that much. The people are nice all the time, no matter where you go, there's no place like the U.S.,” Vest said.
Though the circumstances surrounding Alessandra Flanagan’s immigration were different, she had a similar experience adapting to life in the United States. Flanagan was born and raised in Gaeta, a small town outside of Rome and home of the U.S. Sixth Fleet Flagship. After marrying an American man in the Navy, Flanagan emigrated to the U.S. in the early 90’s.
“The difficulty just to relate to another way of living and the meaning of things that I did throughout the day. For example my accent, which I didn't recognize I had, but others did and they were impatient with my accent,” she said.
Flanagan has since become a United States citizen and cannot imagine living anywhere else.
“It was all worth it, I feel totally integrated. Of course I changed my style of life a little bit, without to lose what I had before. I won't say that it was easy, but it was worth it completely, it is actually a blessing,” Flanagan said.
For these women, the American dream fueled their change of life. For young Americans today, it seems the American dream has morphed into a nightmare.
Two-thirds of all college students will graduate with debt and many will be unable to find a job. The unemployment rate for young adults is the highest in the nation. Those that are able to find jobs are often overqualified and underpaid. Rather than inheriting prosperity, they will inherit the problems of their predecessors.
Matthew Levy, a 22 year-old graduate with a degree in finance from the University of Florida, has struggled in his post-grad life. Levy recently took a sales position in New York City. Shortly after starting, he realized that not only was he overqualified, but he was underpaid as well.
“I’d like to have a girlfriend, I’d like to be able to take someone out, but I honestly can’t afford it right now. I’m making enough to get by, but I’m not able to save anything,” Levy said.
Kelly Dohre, another 22 year-old graduate with a degree in public relations, has not even been able to find a job.
“Jobs aren't just laying around in this economy. So it becomes a job within itself and somewhat of a struggle to keep pulling at everyone and every opportunity you know in hopes of something eventually panning out,” Dohre explained.
However, she remains optimistic. She realizes that while times have been tough “we still have plenty of opportunities other countries aren't blessed with. Jobs may be harder to come by, but the structure of our country allows an individual to benefit from good old-fashioned hard work.”
Dohre’s sentiment reflects many American’s hope for the future. According to a Pew Research study, 57 percent of young adults, whether they are currently employed or not, are optimistic. Only 9 percent believe they will not be able to lead the lives they want due to financial problems. Young adults are the most confident about the future compared to middle aged and older adults of which only 22 percent and 9 percent, respectively, believe that while times are difficult, one day they will attain their goals of living the lives they want.
Although America has changed, the Statue of Liberty has remained the same. When young Americans feel discouraged by the current state of affairs, they only need to look to her face and remember the long tradition of people who have worked hard and stayed optimistic and eventually achieved the American dream.