Losing Sight of the American Dream

By: Janet Shamilian

The early 1990’s marked the fall of the Soviet Union, creating a free and independent Armenia. Almost inevitably, this new liberation allowed for influxes of immigration to the United States. What is it about this 236-year-old country that attracted these immigrants? You may argue that George H. W. Bush was responsible for signing the Immigration Act of 1990, which increased the number of legal immigrants and generated a visa rewarding lottery program. However, this fascination with the United States surpasses legislation and is largely because America is widely renowned as the “land of opportunity.”

America is the welcoming country that promotes the national ethos of the American Dream, accepting all individuals regardless of demographics. It advances the vast array of opportunities presented to its people. This freedom in America allows for success, accomplishments, and prosperity through hard work. However, along the maturation of this country, the people have stopped trusting these defining ideals. Adopting a pessimistic outlook that is largely affiliated with failures and hardships, the people have stopped believing. The American Dream is misunderstood. What happened along the way? This problem is prevalent in our culture because we assume that opportunities will land in our hands upon entrance to the United States. Written in our Declaration of Independence, all men are entitled to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” PURSUIT. Even embedded in one of our country’s founding documents, the American Dream is not only about the rewards, but also about the process. We cannot just expect opportunities to be presented to us. We must aim and work towards reaching the unthinkable goals – the big and even bigger.

Why have we settled for contentment? Why have we stopped advancing towards the American Dream? This settlement is accredited to the fear of failure that often hinders the vision. The mere thought of failing is so powerful that it may even completely exterminate our goal. This reluctance to stepping outside our comfort zone leads to the deprivation of our potential growth and nourishment. It dwindles the search of reaching our full potential. The fear incapacitates and tampers with our mind, until we completely lose sight of the objective. Failure is inevitable; assuming that hard work prevents failure entirely is incontrovertibly foolish. However, hard work defines the process. How we respond to failure is a measure of our character and the true determinant of success. We should not allow failure to defeat us. It will in fact defeat us if we do not try again. We should not allow failure to limit our opportunities, but rather embrace the wisdom that comes with failing. Upon trying again, this wisdom will produce a more strategic and experienced beginning.

Successful people are not tainted nor dissuaded by discomfort, failure, or hardship. Many Armenian Americans (either immigrants themselves or children of immigrants) have truly defined the American Dream. Some of these legacies include Samuel Der-Yeghiayan, a federal judge who holds the title of being the first Armenian immigrant judge in the United States. The 35th Governor of the fine state of California, George Deukmejian, who was born to Armenian immigrant parents who escaped the Ottoman Empire in the early 1900’s. During his tenure, Governor Duekmejian enforced economic policies that created over 2.8 million jobs, prioritized education in California, and created a billion dollar surplus. Flourishing both the Armenian and American cultures, famous painter Arshile Gorky advanced Abstract Expressionism. He arrived to the United States in 1920, pursuing his dreams and eventually had his work displayed in major American museums including the National Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Metropolitan, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and finally the Museum of Modern Art. Prestigious Ben Bagdikian was born in Turkey and was naturalized as a citizen in the United States in 1926. He later went on to become the national editor of the Washington Post. Serj Tankian, lead singer of the band System of a Down was born in Beirut, Lebanon and immigrated to the United States when he was seven years old. Tankian has brought recognition to the Armenian Cause with his music and political involvement. The above mentioned Armenian Americans are only some of the very many influential people in our culture. Following the lead of all successful Armenian Americans, it is time to continue what we started when coming here…it is time to continue chasing the American Dream.

This one is for all the people who BELIEVE and for those whom I am trying to instill BELIEF within.


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7 thoughts on “Losing Sight of the American Dream

  1. I love this Janet! This is so true. My parents came to this country and gave up everything just so my sister and I will have a bright future in the land of opportunity. We mustn’t let fear get in the way of our goals and dreams. Very well written!

  2. I love your optimism Janet, but the “American Dream” is a sham. The the U.S. capitalist system is designed in such a way that people are bound to have economic failure no matter how hard they work. Some will reach great heights of success, and their examples will be highlighted to make the rest of the population feel like if they could just work a little bit harder, a little bit longer and not complain then maybe they too could one day be successful.

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this Janet, and am myself an immigrant chasing (I’d like to think successfully) the American Dream. We are a very resilient people and one or two (or twenty) failures don’t deter us from trying again and working harder. That’s just who Armenians are! I actually think we have it a little better than many other immigrant groups in that we have thicker skins. Research on other immigrant groups shows that by 2nd and 3rd generation, the resiliency probably wears off and kids are not as hard working as their parents.

    You quote the Declaration, which also stated that all men are created equal, and I’m confident you know from your studies of U.S. history that that wasn’t the case and still isn’t. I won’t go as far as saying that the American Dream is a sham, but the level of racism, bigotry and discrimination in this country is very high and impacts opportunities available for everyone, including immigrants. I’m not sure that I’d say that America is accepting of people regardless of demographics, although it does provide a small number of opportunities for a limited number of its immigrants, not a “vast array”. I’m an optimist, but also know that all kids don’t have the same opportunities to succeed in this country, immigrant or not.

    Going back to my generation comment … Do you think the American Dream is perceived differently by your generation? I’m pretty sure you are a college student. Do kids of immigrants work just as hard as their parents to reach the American Dream? Is the pessimism you’re seeing coming from a particular generation or any subgroup of our population? I would love to hear your perspective on the generational differences on this topic.

  4. Firstly, I want to sincerely thank all the individuals that commented below. I truly appreciate all feedback from readers.

    Sanan – Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I’m fully aware of the capitalist system in the United States and how it promotes competition, making it impossible for all competitors to succeed. I did not elaborate in my blog post but I did allude to this by stating, “Failure is inevitable; assuming that hard work prevents failure entirely is incontrovertibly foolish.” You even said so yourself, “Some will reach great heights of success.” I argue that by not trying, by being satisfied with contentment, none of us will ever get to be a part of the people that do end up climbing to the top – the “some.” Contentment is almost synonymous with comfort and if we do not look past our comfort, we won’t ever be able to exceed. It’s not only about making it to the very top. It’s more about improving and this improvement is surely impossible if we do not make efforts to advance or progress. Plus, the attempts might not necessarily yield financial rewards but they’ll adjust our perspective, make us stronger, and will make us more prone to accepting new opportunities.

    Edit – Again, thank you for your comment! I fully agree with your description of who we Armenians are. I do think that America provides a great deal of opportunities for its people. All kids may not have the same opportunities, but factoring in the attempts the country makes (perhaps not always successful) to integrate the disadvantaged children with various affirmative action programs is noteworthy. Even children who are granted a fair shot or are more advantaged sometimes face great disadvantages because of such programs. It’s a matter of how you look at it. Many cases involving such instances have gone up to the Supreme Court – Regents of the University of California v. Bakke, Gratz v. Bollinger, Grutter v. Bollinger, Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle. This only goes to show that though affirmative action programs are not overbearing and do not outride opportunities for majority groups, they have so in the past when the country took steps towards some form of equilibrium.
    I do think my generation perceives the American Dream differently than previous generations. Witnessing the hardships and sacrifices our families have gone through for us serves as an incentive to work harder and reach our full potential. I intended for my blog to apply to all those who settle down, far too early. Despite generations. But to answer your question, I do see the chase and pursuit amongst members of my generation, which is incredibly inspirational.

  5. “This reluctance to stepping outside our comfort zone leads to the deprivation of our potential growth and nourishment. It dwindles the search of reaching our full potential. The fear incapacitates and tampers with our mind, until we completely lose sight of the objective. Failure is inevitable; assuming that hard work prevents failure entirely is incontrovertibly foolish.” I would like to start off by saying that, not only was this a very well written piece but also so so so so inspiring! Many people are reluctant to follow their dreams because of the fear of falling short. This has been my favorite post so far. Keep up the good work! I can safely say I am a big fan!

  6. As an aspiring attorney, I have witnessed numerous peers fade away on the journey to success: to ultimately settle for low wages and failure. This article-very well written and expressed-is representative of a large portion of the Armenian community within the metro area of Los Angeles, I would like to see this article reach the eyes of those who have settled for failure and those who have quit prior to reaching the starting line. Traditionally, our Armenian community has been praised for our educational standing and success, but as of today I am sorry to say that this may not hold strong in the near future: if active steps are not taken to reignite a drive to educate the new generations of Armenians in the USA. Beautifully written and well constructed Ms.Shamilian, I’d love to see some empirical data to truly get a feel of where we stand as of today. I feel seeing those ratios would grant us an opportunity to truly asses and project what percentage of the youth will become low-skilled workers.

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