As they poured into Ellis Island from the overflowing ships, hundreds of immigrants believed that this journey would completely transform their lives. Included in this crowd were my grandparents, entering an unknown world that was hugely different from where they were born in Italy. Both of them were small children at the time, too young to understand the difficulties that their families were about to overcome. They were traveling from Naples and Sicily with no understanding of English and they owned the bare minimum that they needed in order to survive.
Still, they were confident that America was full of opportunities and a new, fulfilling lifestyle. After talking to them about 5 years ago, I wondered whether or not their lives played out how they expected them to- whether or not they really lived the American Dream in the way they imagined they would on that day they took their first steps on the “streets paved with gold” that they were promised to encounter. My grandpa became a butcher and they owned a tiny house in Brentwood, New York, a low-class neighborhood full of crime and violence.
They couldn’t even afford to go on a vacation. Although some people might see this as an undesirable lifestyle, they were probably the happiest people I’ve ever known. They cherished all the love they were surrounded by and tried not to take anything for granted. This is a perfect example of how much the “American Dream” varies from person to person, family to family. For most, it involves a combination of love, money, relationships, freedom, and security. However, it is the balance of all of these things plus a few unique aspects that makes each person’s idea of it so different.
Whether it is Jay Gatsby’s green light and his desire for Daisy Buchanan, Chris Gardner’s struggle to sell a Bone Density Scanner, or John Howard Griffin’s search for a successful life as a black man, everyone has a different struggle they have to overcome that makes their American Dream seem impossible to accomplish. This is because most people are never happy with what they have, and they’re constantly yearning for something more. Someone else’s life will always look better than their own, so they try and try to add things to theirs in order to make it better.
For some, this even involves sleeping in a locked subway restroom. Jay Gatsby, for example, seemed to have everything in life: a huge mansion, all the money he’d ever need, and fame in his community. Though everyone around him wished they could live their lives like him, he was completely unhappy because he was missing one thing: love. He’d stand with his arms stretched out to the green light where Daisy lived, wishing he could be with her. (Fitzgerald, 20) Even though he had so much to be happy about, the only thing that was ever on his mind was Daisy.
This extra something absent from life is unique to all people, but for many it is money, love, or fame. People get so caught up in trying to find this missing piece to their happiness that they hardly get to enjoy the things they have. This brings me back to my grandparents. They were so content with their life, though it may not have seemed ideal to others. Although they probably wished they had more money or better jobs, they didn’t let it get in the way of how they lived their life. They were genuinely happy, which to me means they truly lived the American Dream.