The “American Dream” is a phrase that was coined during the Great Depression. In general, it was the ideal that every US citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative. The premise of this ideal gave young men and women hope that they would achieve a higher standard of living than that of their parents.
Notice that this concept never pointed to the importance of education. In 1930, education was not a requirement in achieving the “American Dream”. Many Americans simply had to roll up their sleeves and get to work. Fast forward twenty years to 1950, and my grandmother who today is a young 96 years old, did exactly that. She rolled up her sleeves and went to work to support her family so they could have a better life. She was one of 10 children born into a second-generation Italian/American family. Things were different when she was born in 1920 when schooling was not important. Despite having very little education my grandmother set off to find work and with four children, a sick husband and no driver’s license she managed to land a job at Western Electric, one of the largest employers in the region. Imagine, being a woman today with little more than a middle school education and securing a job at one of the largest employer’s in the region? In today’s world, it would never happen. My grandmother was one of few women in the neighborhood who worked car-pooling to work every single morning, leaving her house at 6:00 AM regardless of how she felt. In the end, she became one of the many loyal employees who ended up retiring from Western Electric after nearly three decades. She wanted to provide her family with the “American Dream”. I often think about how hard it must have been for her. She had none of the luxuries that we have today, yet managed to juggle work and family. During her working years, she would provide homecooked meals for her family every evening, cleaning the dishes by hand, because she had no dishwasher. There was no such thing as a pre-cooked meal from your local market or fast casual restaurant chain in the 50’s. She lived in a time when she had no cell phone, no computer or any other lifeline to the outside world during her long work day.
However, she did have an opportunity to move her family out of a three-tenement apartment in one of the poorest cities in the state and into a nice country home. She balanced work and family with a smile, expecting nothing in return. She was grateful for her job and the life she could provide for her children. In her mind, she was capable of achieving “the American Dream”.