The Ever-Changing American Dream
Everyone has a dream for their future, working their dream job, living in their dream house, and still being able to do all the fun things they want to do. James Truslow Adams believed this as well and he named his version the American Dream, a dream, “of [a] social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position” (214). Although Adams’ idea is viewed as a guideline on how reach one’s goals in life, it can also be used also as a specific visualization of what someone wants to achieve in their life. Therefore, it can be influenced by major events and experiences each person goes through in their life. The characters Benny Quinto and Nelia Zafón are examples from the Book of Unknown Americans who demonstrate their struggles in pursuit of their American Dream and how their view of what they see as their goal changes.
Benny Quinto was an immigrant from Nicaragua who came to America in hopes of making a lot of money in “the richest country in the world” (Henriquez 44). His motivation was from seeing a few other friends that he knew that had done the same thing. As the chapter begins Benny went from collecting money through skimming church offerings in order to pay for the first part of his trip to America. As he progresses on his journey he hits a roadblock in Arizona, where he forced to stay in a house until he is able to get enough money to pay off the smugglers who brought him to America. He begins to sell drugs and starts making a lot of money, but soon comes to realize that it was not what he wanted after he get stabbed by some of the people he was dealing to. Benny’s adventure eventually takes him to Delaware where he begins working at Burger King where he soon feels, “It’s not paradise, but at least here I can be at peace. It was never like that for me in Nicaragua. And not at my first stops here neither… I took a couple nasty turns, but I ended up all right” (Henriquez 47). Benny starts out with the goal of coming to America to make a lot of money. After his experience in Arizona he decides to make a change and gets to Delaware on a bus and becomes content with flipping burgers, because he would rather be in a place where he can get some peace rather than making a lot of money in a life-threatening way.
Nelia Zafón was an aspiring actor from Puerto Rico, who wanted to become the next Rita Moreno after moving to America. Soon after she arrived, Nelia realized that having a dream is not as effective as having a plan and ends up sleeping away a few nights on Grand Central Terminal’s floor (Henriquez 175). Yet she didn’t let her unfortunate circumstances send her back home. Nelia found a place to live after meeting Josie, a girl who was kicked out of her parents’ house, at an apartment that was being used by Josie’s solider friend. After a year of living there, Nelia got a job as a waitress using the customers leftovers for her own food in order to pay for dancing and acting classes. She soon auditioned for a housekeeper role in the play Man of La Mancha at a small theater. After she didn’t get the role, Nelia moved out of the apartment and into a cellar under a corner grocery store because she felt like it was not right to stay there anymore (Henriquez 177). It is during here time of living under the grocery store that she begins to have second thoughts about her dreams of acting. She travels all over town to auditions, practices dancing and singing to her bodies extremes and she sleeps less and less. After an introspective session she soon begins to realize that acting is not going to work out for her because she feels the world already has a Rita Moreno and there isn’t room for another. It is then that she decides that, “… if I’m not going to find it, then there’s only one option: I will create it” (Henriquez 177). After some research she found that taxes for new businesses are lowest in Delaware. Nelia quit her job and left New York for Wilmington where she got a night job at a bar and spent her days getting her theater ready and twenty years later she still runs her Parish Theater. Here she acts in the productions on a few occasions where she feels, “the real pleasure for me now is giving roles to other actors, watching them perform… [and] in a certain way, I did make it after all” (Henriquez 179). After all the struggles Nelia persisted through she found that even though she wanted to become a big actor, she found more happiness in providing roles for the people who had the same initial dream of acting that she did.
As kids, each person has a dream to become something like a firefighter, an actor, or a basketball player. The American Dream can be used as a motivation tool to let people know that America is a place where you can achieve your future dream through hard work and applying yourself no matter your origins. As you progress through life your views begin to change; an accident could happen that sidelines your basketball career, or you find more of an interest in solving crimes rather than putting out fires. Even the people included change from just yourself to having your family involved or even just a special loved one. The American Dream not only holds most people’s way of achieving their dreams but it also begins to hold what they see as their American Dream after their experiences they have had influence what they want to reach for.
Adams, James Truslow. The Epic of America. Little Brown, 1931.
Henriquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. Vintage Books, a Division of Random House LLC, 2015.