Living in the United States had always been my dream as a child. I loved to watch Disney Movies and TV series because they were much more fun and entertaining than shows for kids in China back then. And they gave me ideas of what was going on with the kids on the other side of the world. I had seen kids taking adventures in summer camps and kids living in a big house with siblings and tons of modern and fun toys. I would always fantasize me being part of them because I felt that that was the life I wanted to have. So to achieve my American Dream, I had decided that I would apply to colleges in the US because that was the easiest and the only way to live my life in America. However for me personally, I was fortunate enough to live my America Dream way earlier than I had planned because of my mother’s promotion. However, the real American Dream is not just to be able to cross the border but for most people, citizens or immigrants, it means to prosper and to succeed in this land, through hard work, given the freedom and opportunities in America. From different movies I have seen, and books I have read, it is definitely not easy to achieve the American Dream because there are both internal and external forces that interrupt and complicate the process. However, hard work will eventually get paid off and consequently the American Dream is achieved.
In the article “On Being a Cripple” by Nancy Mairs, the American Dream is interrupted by the fact that Mairs’s suffering from multiple sclerosis.
Although the disease can complicate her ability to achieve the American dream, she with a strong and hopeful mind will in fact conquer the difficulties without a doubt. Mairs starts the essay by giving an example of her losing balance and falling backwards in the bathroom after a series of movements which include flushing the toilet and unlatching the door. She struggles to stand up and gain her balance back. A seemingly easy daily routine for normal people gives Mairs a great deal of difficulty because she has multiple sclerosis (MS), a chronic degenerative disease that messes up with her nervous system limiting her abilities to live her life. Despite the unfortunate, Mairs tries to face the reality with a positive attitude. She laughs about her chagrins and uses “cripple” to describe herself rather than words like “handicapped” or “disabled” because in her opinion, “cripple” is more straightforward and precise and she is indeed a cripple and she cannot hide it. Mairs says, “I want them [people] to see me as a tough customer, one to whom the fates/gods/viruses have not been kind, but who can face the brutal truth of her existence squarely. As a cripple, I swagger” (482). She shows her strong heart in dealing with her malicious disease that she is not cringing from it. Moreover, she has overcome the mental struggle of being a cripple and accepted of who she is proudly. This belief makes it easier for her to live her life and her dream like a normal person because she believes that she can and she is tough indeed.
However, no matter how strong Mairs is, MS always gets in her way to achieve her American Dream and she can not alter or do anything about it. MS steals away many of her basic abilities, “I no longer have much use of my left hand. Now my right side is weakening as well. I still have the blurred spot in my right eye” (484). With only a weak right hand and blurry vision, there are a lot of things that Mairs is impossibly able to accomplish by herself. Besides, fatigue strikes as other symptom from MS. She describes “I wake up in the morning feeling the way most people do at the end of a bad day” (484-485). Mairs shares that she was perfectly normal as a kid and had enjoyed playing sports and other things that she liked. However, she was diagnosed with MS at her 20s. She did not expect that. Therefore all these symptoms and side effects are indicating that Mairs currently is not living her American dream which is to have a dream job and lead a normal American life like everyone else. But without too much of pessimism, she uses her limited amount of time and limited ability wisely and efficiently to work every single day making a living just like normal people. The cost of that is she has to miss picnics, dinner parties, poetry readings and all the other relaxing and fun stuff to do in her spare time. She as a result is successful versatilely as a writer, teacher and parent although she admits that “my life often seems a series of small failures to do as I ought” (485). Just like the bathroom incidence, in reality MS causes her not to be able to control her body and gives her embarrassments unexpectedly while she struggles to live her American dream.
On the other hand, Mairs does not hide her hatred towards MS. She sometimes feels uncomfortable with her own body image and criticizes the way she walks with her pelvis thrusting forward to balance, shoulders unevenly displayed and left arm being bent in front of her. She cannot make money as easy or as much as some people, for example, models who have prettier body images and are beautiful in every single way. She expresses her disappointment saying, “when I think about how my body must look to others, especially to men, to whom I have been trained to display myself, I feel ludicrous, even loathsome” (490). Social media play a huge role in America often displaying sexual relationship between men and pretty and posh women. It is understandable how Mairs gets that feeling from. However, Mairs has reached the realization that her dream is to be normal and she in fact needs a rich and fulfilling life so that she will have less time to feel sorry for herself for suffering the disease. She says “the richer my life became, the funnier it seemed, as though there were some connection between largesse and laughter, and so my tragic stance began to waver…” (491). After all the obstacles in her way leaving her life with difficulties to conquer, Mairs maintains a positive attitude and strong faith for her dream and her goal in life. She is living in her American Dream. And just like Mairs, there are many other disabled people living in America who struggle to adjust the lives that they are given. With extraordinary work, they end up living in America just like everybody else.
Unlike Nancy Mairs, for physically healthy people like Barbara Ehrenreich, achieving the American Dream is not as easy as it seems. In Ehrenreich’s essay “Serving in Florida”, she decides to live the life of a low-wage worker in America. This is a project for her although she has no idea what it will be like for those people in reality to survive in America. Just like average Americans, to start a new life by herself she has a few tasks to overcome. From throwing money carelessly into grocery and gas to keeping track of every penny she spends, Ehrenreich finds this life is not easy. First of all, it is hard to find a place to live due to the amount of money she makes. She has to manipulate her money really precisely and wisely. Also she needs to make sure that the place she finds a home is affordable and convenient for work every day. “The big problem with this place, though, is the rent, which at $675 a month is well beyond my reach. All right, Key West is expensive. But so is New York City, or the Bay Area, or Jackson, Wyoming, or Telluride, or Boston, or any other place where tourists and the wealthy compete for living space with the people who clean their toilets and fry their hash browns” (348). She points out that the rent in many popular cities where the pay for workers is higher is high too. In addition, the popularity of these cities attracts rich people or rather people with high income consequently. As a result, low-wage workers find it hard to find an affordable living place but on the other hand, they do not want to miss the opportunities working in big cities to make more money. So what they end up doing is they commute from a far suburb of the city where housing is less expensive. Like these low-wage workers, in the end Ehrenreich chooses a $500 per month place that’s thirty miles aways from her work, that is forty-five minutes drive without road construction.
Next Ehrenreich needs to find a job and maintain a rather stable salary. There are jobs that require a lot of physically strength and onerous work with very low pay. And for the low-wage jobs, the applications concern most about whether the person is honest and is a legal residence of the United States. What catches Ehrenreich’s attention is the posters hanging in the interview room where computer becomes the interviewer, “I am conducted to a large room decorated with posters illustrating how to look ‘professional‘ (it helps to be white and, if female, permed) and warning of the slick promises that union organizers might try to tempt me with” (349). What is on the poster might seem like a joke to Ehrenreich. However, it does show that these small firms try to help their employees look “professional”. This will more or less help immigrants or Americans with less education who have not idea what to expect or what to wear for an interview. It after all helps them achieve their American Dream.
Living as a low-wage working makes Ehrenreich feel invisible and exhausted. She feels unrecognized for the work she has done but she also shows that that is how low-wage workers live their American Dream. They do not expect to be recognized and all they want is to do whatever they can in their power to make more money in order to support their families. Ehrenreich says “something I had forgotten in the years since I was eighteen: about a third of a server’s job is ‘side work‘ invisible to customers-sweeping, scrubbing, slicing, refilling, and restocking” (351). All the work she has done is very repetitive and onerous. It does not require any intellectual skills but it requires plenty of physical strength and tons of energy. By sharing her own experience, Ehrenreich illustrates low-wage workers’ way to live their American Dream which is to be able to make enough money to support their families. They cannot care less about what they do; all they need is that $6 hourly pay check to run their families after a tiring day of work.
Mairs with her extraordinary hard work and unshakable goal in life is living her American Dream as a normal person who has a job, or multiple jobs, and is able to support her and her family. And Ehrenreich with her own experience living as a low-wage worker shows the hardship low-wage workers face in their lives and their determined dream to be able to live in American. Although not making too much money, Ehrenreich does make just enough money to live her life independently as an American. Despite that their paths to achieving the American Dream are not easy, they somehow stumble through to make it work. And that is exactly what the American Dream is all about; it’s about believing yourselves and through hard work and determined minds, being successful in America.