Reporter's Notebook

American Dreams
Show Description +
Below is a collection of stories, reflections, and photos from readers on their visions of the American Dream. Email and we’ll do our best to add your contribution to the ongoing series.
Show None Newer Notes

American Dreams: Emigrating From China

Atlantic reader XY Qian tells her story:

I was born and raised in Shanghai, China. I have heard about the American Dream often enough in my formative years that I wanted to experience it myself. I landed in the U.S. at the tender age of 23, taking my husband with me.

I received my doctoral degree in a small social science field from a Big Ten university close to the East Coast, and my husband received his Master’s degree in engineering from the same university. We now live in Minnesota, each having a full-time job that provides benefits. We own two good cars and a decent house in a great school district. Our daughter is four months old now, healthy and having received wonderful care, thanks to the very advanced medical resources available in our state.

So yes, on the surface, my American dream has been realized: advanced degrees from a good university, a full-time decent job for each one of us, a decent house in a good school district, two cars, starting a family.

However, why “on the surface”? Because for any “common Joe,” whether U.S. citizens or immigrants, to realize the American Dream, there needs to be courageous leaders, which has been in extremely short supply. Below is the list of things to start with:

#skowheganstatefair #maine #america

A photo posted by Tom Griscom (@tomgriscom) on

A reader responds to our previous one who immigrated from Beijing:

The “American Dream” is illusory. The promise of a chicken in every pot was promoted during the Depression, and there are other countries that offer a similar quality of life and opportunity as the United States, and generally with fewer strings attached.

The Chinese lady who emailed you is well educated, as is her husband. These are the perfect immigrants, since they can help build the country and their immigration is desirable.

The other side of the equation that claims to look for a better life is uneducated, has difficulty surviving when they get here, and generally goes on welfare while taking day work. Food stamp usage in California is said to be ten million—one-third of the state population. [Ed. note: That’s not correct: the number of Californians on food stamps is only about 4.5 million—11 percent of the state’s population and “among the nation’s lowest.”] That sounds like a nightmare. Is it a scam or is it a true safety net?

Immigration is good for an economy. The reproduction rate in the U.S. is below the level necessary for growth so immigration is necessary—but the right kind of immigration.

Albertine Wang / Elizabeth Herman / EchoSight / The Atlantic

My colleague Emily over the past month has been tracking photo submissions from readers that reflect what the American Dream means to them:

The dream with a capital “D,” of course, cannot be contained in a single photograph or a simple phrase. The dream is all these things at once, to everyone. It’s a proud cacophony of cultures that intersect and challenge one another, and [here] you’ll find images just like that. EchoSight’s Daniella Zalcman and myself have sifted through all the Tweets and Instagrams to find the loudest images, and then mashed them up with images louder still. We also asked the photographers to tell us a little about their photographs and their dreams, which are included below each montage and have all been condensed and edited.

The caption for the above mashup is from Elizabeth Herman: