"What happened to the American Dream — the one we've heard about since kindergarten, the one we've read about and were indoctrinated to believe in — the ever-so-plausible happy ending that could be secured with nothing more than a little sweat and dogged determination?
"We could, as did comedian George Carlin, cynically dismiss the dream as a myth created by the high-faluting founders of this country. But that would be facile and untrue. Our belief is in the validity of Martin Luther King's dream, which is a dialectical critique of the American Dream. King's dream affirmed the humanity of those overlooked and left out by those in power. So, his dream was deeply rooted in the American Dream but placed a premium on poor people. That said, the American Dream is our nation's brand. It is the strategic marketing plan that has lured millions of immigrants to these shores with hopes of accomplishing wonders unimaginable in their native lands. It is the symbol of our historic rise to a world power in less than 200 years. Yet, the 'dream' is not the real problem. America's denial is. Just as we still adhere to an outdated conception of poverty, we have brought ourselves and our society to the brink by our refusal to draft a new dream for our times. If we don our historical lens, we'll see a once-democratic vision now compromised and corrupted by materialism and greed that has morphed into an insatiable, capitalist monster that threatens our very existence.
"This was the dream of 17th-century Puritans who fled religious persecution in England seeking freedom and opportunities in the 'New World.' Yet 'life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness' as 'unalienable rights' bestowed by God in the Declaration of Independence seems at odds with America's original sins — genocide against Amerindians and enslavement of Africans.
"The dream of equality, hope, and liberty was woven deeply into the fabric of America. The Statue of Liberty gifted to the United States and erected in 1886 personified the country's ideal values — despite the legal exclusion of Chinese that same year. Millions of New York-bound immigrants were welcomed with these generous words inscribed at Lady Liberty's feet: 'Give me your tired, your poor/Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.'
"Ironically, it wasn't until 1931, when historian James Truslow Adams penned the 'American Dream' in The Epic of America that the phrase became popular enough to become the nation's mantra."