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What is the American dream?

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On Feb. 12, 17-year-old Korean-American Chloe Kim won her first gold medal in the women’s snowboarding halfpipe event.

With this win, Kim also became the youngest woman to ever win the women’s halfpipe event at the Winter Olympics. Her parents felt as if they had come full circle; her father, Jong Jin Kim, emigrated from South Korea to the United States in 1982 with only $800 in cash, and now, he has returned to South Korea as a father of a gold medalist.

On the Today Show, Jong Jin Kim explained, “We – an immigrant like me – we always say, ‘the American dream.’” The American dream is why Mr. Kim quit his job, left home, and helped his daughter pursue her snowboarding dreams.

Mr. Kim calls his daughter’s win his American dream. Has one achieved the American dream when one’s child succeeds in life? Is success measured by money, glory, security, happiness, or freedom? We toss around this phrase as casually as we perceive it, but what is the American dream?

In 1931, James Truslow Adams coined the term “American dream” in his book The Epic of America. Adams defined the dream “of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”

The American dream’s appeal is the freedom and ability to rise up based on merit and hard work. Since the 17th century, Europeans have immigrated to America to escape religious wars, economic depression, and repression. Every single American is here today either because their ancestors sought the American dream or they continue to chase this dream. This is the mutual purpose that intertwines the life of all Americans. We do not all speak the same language. We speak English, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, French, German, Hebrew, Vietnamese, and Hindi. We do not all look alike. We are black, white, yellow, brown, tall, short, muscular, and lean. We do not have the same views. We are Republican, Democratic, Christians, Buddhists, Jews, Muslims, and atheists. And yet, we all come together in America for one common purpose because it is our will and because this is the American dream.

My grandparents emigrated from Daegu, South Korea, to New York City in the late 1960s. It is easy to say, “My grandparents emigrated to America in pursuit of the American dream” and end the discussion. This is the generic answer I would respond with if someone asked me about my family. After reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me, having a class discussion on what it meant to be an ‘American’ in the Gilded Age (late 19th century), and recently reading Jong Jin Kim’s claim that his daughter’s gold medal represented his American dream, I re-examined what I thought to be the American dream. Since its discovery, America has been the land of freedom and opportunity with the anticipation of potential success for anyone. It is fact that America has the most elite colleges, the highest GDP, and the most powerful military in the world, but it is also fact that America has accumulated the most debt in the world and has experienced one of the most controversial presidential elections in political history.

When my grandparents lived in Korea, the answer to, “Where should I go to advance my studies or simply advance in life?” would automatically be – America. While my grandparents came to America in the 60s under this societal ideology, the 21st century has slowly been stripping the American dream of its sparkly, glamorous cover and revealing a not so idealized dream after all.

        I think it is easy to forget that all of us, whether it be our ancestors or ourselves, emigrated to America as foreigners in search for a better life. All Americans are descendants of immigrants, and this melting pot is the key to America’s undeniable reign as the world’s superpower. When the public hears talk about building a wall between America and Mexico and Trump’s 2017 travel ban halting all refugee admissions from seven Muslim-majority countries, this is the slow toxin poisoning the American dream in the eyes of the dreamers. While people may believe strict immigration laws benefit our country because immigrants are direct threats to our paychecks, values, and safety, these attitudes and actions against immigration are more detrimental than beneficial to America.

I believe that the American dream continues to exist for many people but certainly not for all, as this perfect dream “of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement,” is simply impossible. Brendon Worth from Green Bay, Wisconsin, claims, “There has been no American dream for me. I am a Native American, born on a reservation, and my people’s freedom has been taken away before, and my freedom taken away and I have been thrown in jail.”

The American dream idealizes America into this perfect environment to nurture personal ambitions and goals, but if you strip away a couple layers of this beautiful dream, you will find a reality that hides under every fantasy.

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What is the American dream?