October 19, 2012

Werner Braun: The American Dream

— Lately, I’ve been watching the presidential and congressional elections unfold, and have found myself puzzling over some of the candidates’ rhetoric.

Some candidates are classifying the “underprivileged” in this great nation as “victims” of society. They seem to be suggesting that the “system,” meaning our government and our way of life, is against them. That mindset is very frustrating to me.

I’m not sure where the notion that everyone in this country is entitled to be “taken care of,” just because they were born in the “land of the free,” came from. Since our nation’s founding, men and women have worked extremely hard to create the lives they’ve always dreamed of, which for many includes finding meaningful work, being able to worship as they please, and creating a home and financial security for their families.

The American Dream is still very much alive in my book, and it’s still — unless I’m mistaken — open to anyone who is willing to do the work to achieve it.

I am reminded of a very industrious family that I know, a family that perhaps by some politician’s standards, really shouldn’t have achieved that dream.

That young couple came to the U.S. with their 4-year-old child a number of decades ago.  When they arrived, no one in the family could speak a word of English, and they had only three suitcases to their name. They came here to build the American Dream, and ultimately they were able to do it because of hard work, sacrifice and dedication.

The husband in this family had held down an excellent job in the country from which they came, but the only work he could find in this country was working in a cemetery, finishing graves with shovels and painting by hand the wrought iron fence around the graveyard.

The mother and father dedicated themselves to becoming U.S. citizens at night, the only time they could set aside to study because both worked long hours six days a week.

Ultimately, they were able to accomplish that goal. After six years of study, of learning the English language from scratch, they became very proud U.S. citizens. Soon after that, they were able to purchase their first home. During all of this time, this couple did not take one dollar of aid from anyone or from the government.

This couple also had another dream. Their dream was for their son to go to college and get a degree. They made sure that their son embraced this dream as well and that he had the aspirations, the desire, to fulfill it. Ultimately, their son earned his college degree and was the first member of their extended family to do so.

I guess that’s why it bothers me when I hear candidates for public office talk about people having “the cards stacked against them.” I’d like to point out that the cards are not stacked against these folks. On the contrary, the cards are arranged in such a way that they can have a winning hand if they’re only willing to work at it — and work hard.

Perhaps we should take the time to think about newcomers to this country and those who have been labeled “underprivileged” in a different light. The American Dream is alive and well and available to everyone who wants to pursue it.

In that family of immigrants that I know very well, both the husband and the wife have since passed away. But if they were alive today, I would take the time to say, “Thank you, mom and dad, for achieving that dream and making it possible to me.”

Werner Braun is president of the Dalton-based Carpet and Rug Institute.