DISCUSSION: What Does The “American Dream” Mean Today?

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Not too many years ago, the “American dream” seemed to be a pretty uniform vision: landing a well-paying job, owning your own home and filling it with cool stuff, maybe even having a family and sending your kids to good schools and colleges.

But for many millennials, their goals don’t necessarily line up with this narrow definition of success. More than previous generations, young people today say they value travel and self-employment over material things like houses and cars. And while for immigrant families “making it” used to mean assimilating into American culture, many young first and second generation Americans are seeking to preserve their traditions, finding balance between old and new values.

Youth Radio reporter Kasey Saeturn is one of those millennials. Her family is from Laos, and is ethically Mien. Unlike her younger siblings, she has made an effort to learn to speak Mien even as she participates in a traditional American education. “I’m trying to pursue higher education, financial aid, and the American Dream,” she says. “And I’m trying to do all that, without losing the Mien ways.”

But as evident in another Youth Radio story, this one by Isabella Ordaz, the opportunity to pursue the traditional American Dream can sometimes feel like a cultural trade off. When she was ten, Isabella, who is Mexican-American and now in high school, moved with her family from her diverse neighborhood with a reputation for high crime, to a primarily white suburb with a low crime rate and prestigious local schools. While she had more academic options in her new school, it was a culture shock for her suddenly to be one of the only brown students in her class —  especially when her white classmates made insensitive comments about Mexicans.

“I felt like a little brown pebble stuck in a glistening pile of white sand,” she said. “And the sand, it didn’t want me there.”

Do Now

How do you personally define the “American dream?” How do priorities like home ownership and access to higher education compare with your values? What will success look like for your future?

 To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #DoNowAmDream


Kasey Saeturn AUDIO: Keeping Up My Mien Heritage (KQED/Youth Radio)

Youth Radio reporter and Mien-American Kasey Saeturn has several siblings, but she is the only one who still speaks any Mien. Her younger siblings have to ask her to translate when they want to talk to their grandmother, who does not speak English. In her KQED perspective, Kasey weighs the value of an American education and traditional Mien skills.


Other Resources

AUDIO: Whispers of Racism (KQED/Youth Radio)

When Youth Radio reporter Isabella Ordaz and her family moved from a diverse but higher-crime neighborhood in Antioch, California to a more affluent, gang-free community in Danville, she felt like they had won “the Mexican immigrant lottery.” But the move also came with a new form of culture shock. As one of the only brown kids in her class, Isabella soon found herself missing the acceptance she had in her old neighborhood.


AUDIO: Youth Radio Podcast: The American Dream (Youth Radio)

In this intern edition of the Youth Radio podcast, Onaja Waki “explores the meaning of the American Dream and the relevance it has in today’s society — especially for youth.” The podcast includes interviews with a diverse group of teens as well as Diana Elliott, Research Officer for Economic Mobility for Pew Charitable Trusts.

Listen Now