The American Dream
Once upon a time I woke up and realized the American Dream was our catalyst to knowing exactly what we DIDN’T want in order to focus on exactly what we DID want.
Not exactly what you expected to read, was it? But let’s back up just a bit….
The subject of the ‘American Dream’ has been a recent been a hot topic among many of our fellow family travel bloggers, we have decided to share our collective thoughts, with our own unique perspectives on the dream, so many base their lives chasing. What is the American Dream? Is it something that affects us, even to this day, over 2 years and 3 months after leaving America? And why does this concept still have an impact on our lives?
Before I get into this discussion, you should know I have no desire to explore or defend the virtues of the American Dream, an illusion we clearly don’t buy into. This is not an attempt to exemplify the illusion, which many view as the ‘promise’ to freely pursue happiness & prosperity within the United States. Nor have I included buzz words like achieving, acquiring, accelerating, owning, or succeeding, all language associated with that all-elusive-American-Dream.
What this is, is a frank exploration from the perspective of a mother and son, both whom have decided to reject in the so-called American Dream for an alternative lifestyle, a self-proclaimed life of global citizenship.
As I sit here in Peru, writing this post, I recall the conversation I had yesterday morning with another mother, as we watched our sons practice Tae Kwon Do together. The similarities between us are great. Both of us care deeply about our families, love our sons and support their choices. Both of us want to empower our sons to be individuals, but in the same breath, care for humanity. Both of us like nature and love the beach. Both of us are concerned about the pesky mosquitos and whether or not they carry dengue which could harm our families. Both of us love dogs as she tells me about the litter of puppies her momma dog just had. Both of us are interested in eating and cooking healthy, as she shares tips on finding the best central market vendors for fresh fruits and veggies.
Her name is Lucia and I am so grateful we began our conversation, as her English is very good. I appreciate the many similarities between us and feel as if I made a new friend. I sum her up as sort of hippy mom, as she reminds me of friends I had back in the states.
I asked Lucia where’s she’s traveled to, she replies, “Oh, I’ve never traveled outside of Peru, but hope to some day.” Then she added “I would love to go to India some day, but it’s very difficult for Peruvians to get visas to leave.” Then she told me when she was young, she always dreamed of going to the United States, but not anymore.
“Really?” I replied. Then I added, “Why, and why not anymore?”
She is more or less 10 years younger than me, putting her somewhere in her mid 30’s. She told me about her impression of the United States, an impression developed through watching American television and movies while growing up. And what she told me, really, was the story of the American Dream.
Lucia continued, “I used to believe that in the United States, everything was new, everything was large, everyone had new homes and many cars and the women had lots of clothes. I wanted that too, and at one point I believed that was the only way to be happy. But it always wasn’t like that. But I remember clearly being a little girl and the day I looked around my village and realized we didn’t have all that stuff. Our home didn’t have a floor other than the dirt ground. Our walls were made from mud bricks, although very sturdy. Our roof was corrugated tin and our electricity came from large wires that dropped down into our house. We shared 3 walls with our neighbors and everyone lived as a community. Our family had a little money and we always considered ourselves to be very lucky. My mother and father were both teachers at the local school and my sisters and I always had enough of everything, food to eat, clothes without holes and books to read.
I remember how my thinking changed when my dad brought home a small television set when I was around 10 years old. Suddenly my world got larger and I remember not being as happy with what we had and wanted something different. I wanted what you had over there, over in the United States. I learned English and decided some day I too, would get the new house, the new car and all the wonderful clothes, and that too, would make me happy.”
I listened to her story, but sensed something had changed. Just then, her younger son woke up and she began to nurse him. As soon as he was content, she continued. “Then about 10 years ago, just after my oldest was born, my husband and I decided to turn off the TV. I spent 3 years of self exploration, making a conscious choice not to watch TV, not to look at fashion magazines, and to focus on myself, and my family. I am glad I did.
I realized I really wasn’t interested in going to the Untied States. I do not really want the things I used to want and I love my life here in Peru. Luckily my husband and think very similarly and we are both very happy”.
I thought about her words. I thought about her epiphany. I thought about the damage the American Dream must do to those people in countries that do not have the economic advantages that Americans do. I wondered how the American Dream must destroy the psyche of those who never have to the chance to pursue it.
But do any of us, really?
Even those of us who were born in the United States?
Then I had my own epiphany. American Dream is designed to never be attained. Keep people in a state of pursing and a state of wanting, WHICH IS NOT A STATE OF HAVING. Keep people preoccupied with attaining the unattainable and injecting fear with the promise that someone else can take it away from you.
The most powerful emotion to control masses, keep them preoccupied with something that really doesn’t’ matter.
I understand the American Dream better now that I’ve created some space between it and us. I understand the role the American Dream holds in the world, from the perspective of a parent, from the perspective of a traveler, from the perspective of a self-proclaimed world citizen.
But also I must add the perspectives of a former advertising & marketing professional who spend the majority of her adult life designing campaigns to sell pieces the American Dream, to perpetuate consumerism and to convince those exposed to the campaigns that something was missing in their lives unless they bought that product or service. Yes, the ad men of the United States have a tradition of communicating the personal inadequacy of the citizens.
- You are less unless you buy.
- You are unworthy unless you consume.
- You are nothing unless you have.
- Your value as a human being is measured by what you own.
This message is engrained in our culture and it’s something I believe most Americans are not even conscious of anymore.
But the veil is starting to drop as more and more cracks in the culture are revealed. We watch the unemployment in the United States soar to all time highs. We witness families loosing their homes. We see economies collapsing…
The American Dream is a destructive illusion.
If we no longer can value ourselves through what we have, where we live, what we own, how can we be happy? There are those who choose to live outside of a culture of fear, a culture of consumerism, a culture of me. Lucia is one example of someone who decided not to pursue the American Dream.
So are Miro and I.
In pursuit of the all evasive ‘American Dream’, what happens if we consider heading up to Canada or Europe? Is it better? Is there just more of the same there? Not really sure. Maybe all Americans should all pack up their things and head somewhere else to test the waters. Is is possible all we will all discover we have what we need if our families are with us? Who knows. It’s a long shot.
But when it comes down to it, it’s really about identifying your meaning of the ‘American Dream’. Are you ready to redefine the dream based on your ideals and stop buying into the spoon-fed values that may not reflect your own?