Pursuing the "American Dream"
Some of the most important things immigrants brought with them didn't fit in a trunk. In addition to their physical belongings, immigrants brought their hopes, dreams, fears, prejudices -- the same "extra baggage" everyone carries with them where ever they go!
Discuss (think back to what you saw at the museum):
- Besides "stuff," what else did the immigrants bring with them? [attitudes, goals, skills, hopes, dreams, faith, work ethic, prejudices, etc.]
- What "old country" skills would be important in their new homes? What "old country" experiences might help them adjust to their new home? [used to hard physical work, long hours, living simply]
- What attitudes did they bring with them? [religious faith, strong sense of community, work ethic, saving for future, prejudices against other ethnic groups]
- What character traits would help new immigrants to succeed? [courage, flexibility, hard-working, creativity, determination, perseverance, accept hardship today for better future life, etc.]
- What hopes and dreams did immigrants have for their future in America?
- Which was most important to the immigrants' success in America, their physical belongings or their attitudes and dreams? Why?
The American Dream
Many immigrants heard that "the streets of America are paved in gold" -- a vision that was obviously a very strong pull factor! Ask students what they think that expression means. What do they think it would have meant to their immigrant characters? Through the following primary sources, they will get to hear from some of these immigrants and their children.
Primary Sources: Letters from Home; Letters from America
- Reread the letters to and from immigrants in America.
- Look for clues about their hopes and dreams for their new lives.
- What do you think they would say was the American Dream?
Primary Sources: "Generations" oral history interview excerpts
- Read the "Generations" interview excerpts "Why Immigrant Ancestors Came" and "Pursuing the American Dream," where several people from Johnstown talk about their immigrant parents and grandparents.
- Underline parts of the interviews that give you hints about the goals and dreams that kept them going.
- What do you think each of the interviewees' ancestors would say the "American Dream" was? (You'll have to read between the lines -- most people don't talk about their own hopes and dreams, not about the "American Dream.")
- Who did they expect would achieve the Dream? Themselves? [they worked hard so their children would have it easier]
- The dictionary says that the American Dream is "an American ideal that everyone has an equal chance to achieve success and prosperity."
- Which of the immigrants we've read about would agree with this definition? Why? Who would disagree? Why?
Advertisers spend a lot of money telling you that their products will help you achieve the American Dream.
• What does the American Dream that they are selling look like? [house in the suburbs, new car, people like you, having fun, lots of gadgets, fast food, etc.]
• How accurate is this picture? How is your life different from what they show?
• Do you think this was the American Dream your immigrant ancestors had in mind for you? Why or why not?
• How well did your immigrant ancestors dreams come true for their children and grandchildren?
• Would your immigrant ancestors think your family had achieved the American Dream? What parts of your life would they think fulfilled the dreams they had for you? [higher paying jobs, fewer work hours, education, good health, nice house, church/synagogue attendance, etc.]
• What parts of your life might disappoint them (if any)? Why? [lack of church attendance; not keeping ethnic language, foods, and traditions; "wasting," rather than saving, money]
• What are your hopes and dreams for the future? What do your parents hope for you? How are they the same? How are they different?
Push and Pull Today
Find out more: Immigration today
Examine immigration today and compare it with what you learned in the museum.
- Why is America known as a “nation of immigrants”?
- What kinds of immigrants come today compared with turn of the century, what countries do they come from, what jobs do they seek, why do they come (what are their push/pull factors)?
- Where are they settling?
Find the answer to some of these questions at:
- The U.S. Census Bureau
- Immigration and Naturalization Service
- State Department
Activity: Interview an Immigrant
This activity works either an individual homework assignment (encourage phone interviews, if necessary) or cooperative learning activity with teams of three or four students. A great way to make sure everyone has a fruitful interview is to invite enough immigrant (or migrant) guests to the classroom that each team has an immigrant to interview.
Introduce the activity with discussion:
- Has anyone from your family had to move away from this area? Where did they move? Why?
- What were the push factors for leaving this area?
- What were the pull factors at their new home?
Directions: Interview someone in your family who has migrated to or from Johnstown from another area (they don't have to be immigrants, they can be migrants within Pennsylvania or the USA):
• Use the "Oral History" tip sheet to help you come up with interview questions
• Try to find out why they left their original home, what made them choose their new home, what it was like to make such a big change, how they adjusted, what their goals were, whether they achieved their goals, etc.
• Write a school newspaper article about the push and pull factors that influenced your interviewee.
Other famous documents have expressed other ideas that could be called the "American Dream."
- How does the Declaration of Independence say it? ["…that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain rights, and that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"]
- What was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s American Dream? [refer to his famous "I Have a Dream..." speech: people would be judged by their character and not the color of their skin; blacks and whites would join together in freedom, etc.]
- How do these "American Dreams" compare with the "prosperity" dream?
- What other versions of the American Dream can you think of?