From Rags to Riches: The Pursuit of the American Dream

The idea of pursuing the American dream that brought so many immigrants from their home countries to Lady Liberty's shores has faded for the most part. This is not to say that the American dream no longer exists; rather the pursuit that made the dream so fulfilling is hard to find.
I think the change in "pursuit" came shortly after generation X came of age. Those younger than I are content to find their fame through posting YouTube videos or auditioning for reality shows. It is no longer about proving one's worth through education and experience, but rather who you know and who they know that brings you success. It almost seems that biographies and autobiographies will soon go out of style. Who wants to read about someone's million YouTube views while there are so many others who have honed their talent and studied the masters but still have not been discovered? Who wants to read about a girl whose mother, aunt, and grandma had already found fame in the same industry? Perhaps some do, but not I. I'd rather keep admiring those individuals who rose from poverty and truly "pursued" the American dream.

Michael Jackson's Childhood
Jermaine Jackson gives readers an intimate view of his siblings' childhood as they grew up in a two-bedroom house. He and his four brothers slept head to feet (think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) in a three-tiered bunk bed in one of the bedrooms. His three sisters and youngest brother shared the foldout couch in the living room. The kids were told they were not poor because they owned their home. And their parents encouraged them to dream. Jermaine writes of Michael as a child:

  • He was crazy about Lionel toy trains - small but weighty model steam engines and locomotives, packaged in orange boxes. ... in his imagination, our shopping carts became two or three railroad cars, and 23rd Avenue was the straight section of the track. It was a train that went too fast to pick up other passengers, thundering along, as Michael provided the sound effects.
The siblings were each others' playmates who sped not only in abandoned shopping carts but also on the playground's merry-go-round. They didn't celebrate Christmas due to religious beliefs, but the children knew Christmas carols and hated that theirs was the only home on the block with no tree, lights or decorations.

Neverland Ranch
Is it any wonder, then, that Michael chose to relive the best of his childhood memories and those he craved but never had once he had the money to do so? Jermaine writes he was not surprised the first time he visited the completed Neverland Ranch.

  • Neverland has always been portrayed as the outlandish creation of a "wild imagination" with the suggestion that a love of Disney was its sole inspiration. Elements of this may be correct, but the truth runs much deeper, and this was something I knew immediately when I saw with my own eyes what he had built .... Christmas lights trimming the sidewalk ... a huge steam train ... a miniature train ... and the merry-go-round ... spinning to music, a beautiful carousel of ornate horses.

Reading these first few chapters of Jermaine's book, I'm reminded again - it's not enough to know the American dream is attainable. You have to appreciate the attainment which is an upward climb and not a lateral move.

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