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People have immigrated to America since its inception, in search of freedom, opportunity, and hope for a better life. In The Epic of America, by James Truslow Adams, we read that the American dream is:
…that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement…. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.
Each wave of people, however, has caused consternation to those already here. Whether people arrive legally or not, immigration has remained controversial for almost as long as the U.S. has been a country.
Abdu’l-Baha saw great hope for this country to become united and break down these barriers. He told us:
When love is realized and the ideal spiritual bonds unite the hearts of men, the whole human race will be uplifted, the world will continually grow more spiritual and radiant and the happiness and tranquillity of mankind be immeasurably increased. Warfare and strife will be uprooted, disagreement and dissension pass away and universal peace unite the nations and peoples of the world. All mankind will dwell together as one family, blend as the waves of one sea, shine as stars of one firmament and appear as fruits of the same tree. This is the happiness and felicity of humankind. This is the illumination of man, the glory eternal and life everlasting; this is the divine bestowal. I desire this station for you and I pray God that the people of America may achieve this great end in order that the virtue of this democracy may be insured and their names be glorified eternally. – The Promulgation of Universal Peace, p. 145.
Historically, people tend to mistrust those who don’t look like them, who dress differently, who have cultural traditions they don’t understand and which they find distasteful. They fear competition for jobs. People even tend to use those who are different as scapegoats to blame for their personal and societal problems. Yet we all have the same dreams. The Hopi Indians say:
All dreams spin out from the same web.
Another Native American tribe, the Maricopa, remind us that:
Everyone who is successful must have dreamed of something.
In A Place at the Table, a documentary film from Teaching Tolerance, eight American teens of diverse backgrounds come together around a campfire to share their family struggles in search of the American Dream.
This is an excerpt from the study guide that comes with the film and its accompanying book:
Out of all the pain caused by hatred and injustice in our nation’s history, there has emerged another, more hopeful narrative. It is a narrative composed by men and women who refused to allow their own humanity to be diminished by others. Through struggle, sacrifice and solidarity they have taken their rightful place at the American table.
Through their stories we learn that:
The American Dream is something that everyone, everywhere, somehow seems to understand — this radical idea of creating one country from every kind of people from every corner of the earth with liberty and justice for all. It’s very beautiful, but it’s also very difficult. And it’s up to us to make this dream come true.
Baha’is believe that this should not just be an “American” dream—it should be the dream of all humanity around this whole blue planet. If we can let go of our prejudices and learn to see each other as part of one human family, we can make that dream come true.
Let us all, wherever we live, work towards breaking down the barriers between us, seeing each other as children of one family of the same God, and making the dream of those eight young Americans our dream, too. We can turn that dream into reality. We can fulfill the promise that Abdu’l-Baha envisioned for us.