The 'American Dream': ¿paraíso artificial? [Commentary]

Is the promise of a better life for all in the U.S. a fallacy?

September 18, 2014|By Kaitlin Thomas

It sounds great on the surface that there would actually be a place in the world where opportunity and money abound, knowing no imaginable limits. Almost as though a new life, full of the freedoms, finances and prospects, is ripe for the picking from the American Dream tree. Such is the too-good-to-be-true nature of this centuries old image that has charmed foreigners to uproot their lives, families and futures to cross a border into an immense unknown: the glistening USA.

But, as they say, all that glitters is not gold — something to keep in mind when considering crossing an arbitrary line in the hopes it could change one's life so radically and, more importantly, effortlessly. Have countless numbers of individuals achieved wealth and growth and freedom by having a go at creating a new life in the United States? Absolutely. But individuals who have built such successes for themselves and their families share the trait of having been able to take stock of the American reality and not sit idly, simply waiting for their piece of the dream-pie to materialize.

The proverbial American Dream manipulates individuals into believing that reality is something different from what it is. The 17th century American Dream of the colonizers, the 19th century version during the Gold Rush, the early and late 20th century variety during the industrial and technological booms all share extremely important traits that are often not part of the myth when recounted to individuals desperate for change, escape or opportunity: the level of commitment, the depth of spirit-breaking hard work and the years (sometimes decades) that can pass by without reaping any reward. This is now compounded further by our ever-more complicated 21st century situation where jobs are scant, economics are not re-bounding, legal policies are tightening, and patience is thinning.

For so many Latino immigrants who cross the border into the U.S., the obstacles of speaking a different language, operating according to a different social and cultural code, not possessing degrees and certificates that act as gateway portals, and the sometimes overwhelmingly opaque American network are huge and can be devastating. It all raises the question of whether the lore of the once possible, once thriving American Dream has turned into a paraíso artificial — an artificial paradise where even the basic principles of hard-work, fortitude and endurance are no longer sufficient to, at minimum, secure some type of social and financial advancement.

Come to the U.S. to find a job, yet there still is not sufficient employment for those already here. In the U.S. you can escape corrupt and backward governing, yet the current political arena is the least efficient and most polemic in American history. The U.S. is a tolerant "melting pot" where everyone has an ancestral connection to somewhere else, yet racial tension, religious fervor, and indignation antagonize sensitive social conditions.

The unprecedented numbers of border crossing immigrants in search of what appears to be a more and more elusive Holy Grail of life improvement, and the just as significant percentage of those same individuals who voluntarily opt to return home, warrants the reexamination of what the contemporary American Dream is. How do we now define what was once a promise of access, opportunity and improvement when those three pillars have fallen by the wayside in our current culture of denial, cessation and stagnation?

We were once a nation that inspired individuals to achieve reinvention, yet evidence suggests that what once was an American Dream has since turned into an American Nightmare. Our "land of opportunity" is no longer facilitating growth and access but rather sabotaging the ability to improve one's standing in life whether it be a newly arrived immigrant fresh from crossing the border or a born and raised American citizen. Without the cornerstone promise of improvement and opportunity, one can't help but ask not only why would anyone be interested in coming here, but why would anyone stay?

Kaitlin Thomas is a visiting instructor of Spanish at Washington College, and a Spanish Instructor for the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. Her email is

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