American Dream: Place, Identity and Power
The American dream is different for everyone, since everyone is unique as an individual and the American dream can be interpreted in many ways. In this podcast we will explore the American dream from the perspective of women in regards to their reproductive rights, Gay college athletes, inmates serving in the US Penal System, and American Immigrants.
Act 1: Gay Athletes
By Mike Lansing
Everyone chases the American Dream: the happy, successful, and fulfilling life that everyone wants to live. Some people are successful in achieving this goal, while others fall by the way side, struggling to keep up with the status quo of society.
In the pursuit of the American Dream, people of the gay community hope for EQUAL RIGHTS- getting a job and not having the fear of getting fired because of sexual orientation. Would you be comfortable hiding who you really were just to keep a job? Not only do they face the fear of not obtaining or keeping a job because of their sexual identity, but they also want to have the feeling of acceptance wherever they may go. They want to be able to say that they belong and feel included, rather than feel isolated and shunned. These are obstacles that people like you and I do not have to worry as much about, in regards to our sexuality, because we live in a heteronormative world that people of the gay community are continuously struggling to combat.
Jesse Klug, one of my teammates on Bucknell’s soccer team, came out to the team during the first week of school at a team dinner. I decided that he would be a good candidate for me to interview on the topic of the pursuit of the American dream, but from the perspective of a gay athlete and a gay student.
I asked Jesse, “Does being gay affect how happy you are or how successful you are at school?”
His response was, “No. There is a stereotype threat, though. When I am speaking, I have to think, ‘How am I representing the gay community?’ There is a stereotype that when a gay person speaks, he/she is representing the entire gay population. But, when a straight person is talking, he/she is not representing the straight population as a whole.” What I take from this that the people of the gay community are viewed as a group of people, rather than individuals. I don’t know about you, but I would rather be viewed as my own person and not as a representative of a group of individuals that are different in many ways from one another. In an interview with ABC News, Jason Collins, a professional basketball player in the NBA, explains how he seems to break a stereotype of a gay person. (INTERVIEW).
As a team, we try and make it as less awkward as we possibly can and make him feel a part of the team, just like every other player. As hard as we try to make him feel comfortable, there are still things that he is uncomfortable with and can sometimes feel left out or isolated. The topic of girls can be risen quite a bit, as we are a group of young guys in college. How is Jesse, a guy who is attracted to other guys, supposed to contribute to those conversations? He isn’t just going to say, “Oh, yeah! She’s attractive, but I think Derek Jeter is better looking.” Everyone is able to talk freely about what they think of girls and about their relationships, but Jesse can’t talk about who he finds attractive or his relationship because it may make us feel uncomfortable. This is where Jesse can find it hard to build tight relationships with some of the players. I, personally, am his roommate, so he is much more open with me than he is with other players on the team. I feel comfortable confiding in anyone on the team for help with school, family problems, relationship problems, etc., but I feel that Jesse has a very select few that he would feel comfortable opening up to. This is merely another obstacle that Jesse faces, that most do not have to face and that the players on the team do not have to think twice about.
The one place that Jesse can feel completely accepted, though, is on the soccer pitch. He is viewed as an athlete, treated like an athlete, talked to as an athlete, and is expected to do everything that every other player is expected to do. He is not treated as a gay athlete or anything different or less than any of the other players. He is treated as an equal and is fully accepted as one of our teammates. Coming from an athlete’s perspective, I do not care about any of my teammates’ lifestyles, sexualities, or choices or decisions off the field when it comes to playing the game of soccer. If you are a talented player and are putting forth as much effort as you possibly can, you will have my utmost respect. I believe that I speak for the majority of the athletes out there that take the game as seriously as I do. Jason Collins goes on to tell his interviewer that he would tell a young athlete that is gay, that it does not matter about his sexuality. All that matters is the game. (INTERVIEW).The field is a place where Jesse is fully accepted and can feel like he is no different from any one of the other players.
The amount of time that Jesse spends on the field, though, is limited in comparison to how much time there is in a day. So, when he is not on the field, he is in school, at home, out in the town, or for that matter of fact, out in the real world; it is a place that is heteronormative and not always as accepting of some people’s sexuality as some of us wish it was. “I have to put up with a lot more ‘crap’ than other people,” says Jesse. Many things that Jesse goes through hinder him from being happy and successful, but they do not prevent. He faces obstacles on a daily basis that neither I, nor you have to face, just in order to be happy and successful.
Act 2: Italian-American Immigrants and the American Dream
By Connor Hayes
President John F. Kennedy once reflected on how the immigration process contributed to the evolution of our great nation. He proclaimed that:
“ Immigration and assimilation is central to the whole American faith…immigration gave every old American a standard by which to judge how he had come and every new American a realization of how far he might go. It reminded every American, old and new, that change is the essence of life, and that American society is a process, not a conclusion.”
President Kennedy’s words hold true to America’s immigration culture. The story of immigrants in our nation is about newcomers integrating into our society and strengthening our culture and especially our economy. Assimilation for newcomers into American society is a challenging feat, but is easily and beneficially completed through the factor of time. The article Assimilation Today on americanprogress.org states that:
“The longer immigrants have lived in the United States, the more “they” become “us.” Pasta, salsa, sausage, and egg rolls are now a common place on American dinner tables as corn, pumpkin and turkey. Soccer is now a national pastime, at least among the youth, and millions of sports fans have cheered the thousands of immigrants who are members of professional sports organizations.”
The first food americanprogress.org lists in its article is one specifically of Italian heritage, pasta. Italian culture is now viewed as a major contributor to our mainstream American society, especially the vast number of pizza joints and restaurants that have found their homes in many American appetites. It’s hard to look over what Italians accomplished through assimilation, especially the fact that Italian Americans consist of the fourth largest European ethnic group in the United States.
Assimilation into mainstream cultures requires a large degree of time and the geographic sense of “place.” John Anderson wrote many pieces pertaining to the cultural meaning of place and refers to three important qualifications for its definition. Anderson labels these three requirements as location, locale, and a sense of place. These three constituent parts make up the key ingredients necessary to form a cultural identity for a national society. What better way to exemplify Italian heritage into American society than interviewing my grandfather, Anthony Caltabilotta, a second generation Italian and Korean War veteran who grew up in one of New York’s Little Italy’s, Bensonhurst. The location Bensonhurst, New York, was one of the many driving influential Italian communities during the 1920’s to 50’s that helped push Italian ideals into the American mainstream culture while maintaining its original Italian heritage that could not be discarded nor discredited.
Bensonhurst is a location according to Anderson that offers a place of safety and familiarity allowing a specific culture to ferment in perhaps an unknown or abstract area. Locale is the built, natural, and social environment generated by cultural relations. It’s the composite of all the traces that come together in one place and provides the setting for everyday routine and social contact. Bensonhurst as a community was primarily an Italian neighborhood with shops, buildings, and homes all owned and operated by Italians alike. It allowed immigrants and their generations after them a safe place to interact and maintain a source of personal identity while still being an American. The third constituent part of Anderson’s notion of place is the cultural “sense of place”. This sense of place can be more easily understood as the emotional, experiential and effective traces that tie humans into a particular environment. It is the key way in which humans, culture and environment are united together to define in some extent to the connection of place. Anthony will now talk about his experiences and memories growing up in Bensonhurst during his childhood that resembles a place where Italian culture was pushed into American mainstream ideas.
During his youth around the Democratic Party’s New Deal coalition from the 1920’s and 30’s, Italians through second-generation citizens started to have a more positive spotlight in American culture. 2nd generations joined forces with other labor unions and lobbied for benefits, joined Democrats in New Deal reforms. War veterans, mostly John Basilone, set the highest bar for Italians during the Second World War earning the congressional medal of honor. Also for the first time the national popular culture began to include Italian Americans among its heroes: in music, sports, politics, and cinema the careers of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joe Dimaggio, Carl Furrillo, Vince Lombardi, Fiorello LaGuardia, Frank Capra, and Don Ameche, Sophia Loren, suggested that national attitudes toward Italians were in transition.
Anthony in your experience growing up in Brooklyn at those times with mobsters and gangsters on the rise, and you also being of Sicilian heritage, did you ever find yourself working for the mob?
At first, like the Irish and many other European groups that immigrated in mass quantities to the US, Italians found it hard to assimilate into American social norms and cultures. It took a matter of decades through political and economic persecution with innovative and well driven people to overcome the social barrier and allow American mainstream ideals to adopt the best of Italian’s culture.
With national heroes and icons all capturing American hearts, it was not hard for Italian Americans to gain a positive image and sense of place in the United States. It was only the factors of time and the actions of a select few of individuals that helped push this Italian heritage into the limelight of American society, opening up its gates to be consumed by the country for all its benefits from food to cultural customs. Sunday night pasta dinners were once only an Italian tradition, but now have been a social norm for all ethnic groups in the US.
Act 3: The American Penal System and the American Dream
By Dan McManus
One of the founding fathers of this country, Thomas Jefferson, is most famously known for his statement, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”. This description of how American citizens should be able to live or act freely describes the “American Dream” in terms that are much deeper than today’s perception of the “American Dream”. Today, often times when we think of the “American Dream” we think about the attainment of material goods or the hope of upward mobility, but another very important aspect to the “American Dream” is the guarantee of rights promised to all citizens.
Most often as American citizens we exclude many groups of people from being classified as a citizen. This exclusion is often associated with those who resemble that of an immigrant or those who we perceive as not looking like a normal American. On top of these many groups that we discriminate against we often look over those who are residing in U.S. penitentiaries across the nation. These people who we rarely ever think about when it comes to rights are experiencing many injustices and violations of their rights. One specific right that will have importance when speaking about prisoners in America is the 8th amendment. This amendment entails that there should be no cruel and unusual punishments inflicted upon a person. Today in the U.S. penal system there are many cruelties inflicted upon prisoners that should be considered a violation of this amendment. More specifically these violations of the 8th amendment are occurring in Special Management Unit facilities (SMU).
Right now you’re probably asking yourself, “Why should we care about the rights of these prisoners?”. This is a valid question to ask because it is normal to think that prisoners don’t deserve rights due to their violations of the law. This widespread notion that prisoners don’t deserve rights is rarely debated because the identities of inmates carry a stigma along with it. For example most people associate inmates in high security prisons with crimes such as murder or rape but most of these prisoners have not committed crimes of this magnitude. To be more specific 70 percent of the inmates in federal prisons are serving sentences for non violent crimes such as drug trafficking. (Richards, pg.11) This category of prisoners that have committed non violent crimes may also include people such as pilots, military personnel and merchants due to their lack of knowledge or being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (Richards, pg.11) The fact that most of the people in these SMU federal prisons are not there because of violent crimes should make us reconsider the importance of the rights of inmates.
To help make it more clear on what is being argued as a violation of the inmates rights, I believe it is necessary to go through the transformation of U.S. penitentiaries from being relatively rehabilitative facilities into being mentally and physically damaging facilities. Before the 1970’s prisons aimed to help their inmates get better through allowing them participate in a variety of activities such as sports and reading. These methods allowed prisoners to have some enjoyment rather than fostering the inmates into mentally crazed animals. In more recent times the same goal of rehabilitation is aimed for, but with a tactic that is the complete opposite of those of earlier prisons. (Morin, pg.385) This change in the U.S. prisons methods of dealing with the incarcerated is what led to the culture of cruelty and brutality within prisons. This cruelty is also intensified by the spatial constraints that inmates have to deal with. (Morin, 390) This culture that has developed in U.S. Federal prisons is also accompanied by unacceptable behavior by prison guards. It is argued that most correctional officers are influenced by this masculinity culture and that they develop values and perspectives that produce an environment that is unstable and always on the verge of crisis. (Haney, pg 966)
Craig Haney, a professor at University of California, Santa Cruz, has written many papers concerning the psychological effects of the prison system. Haney claims that we had gone through an era where there was a punishment wave and this transformed the U.S. penal system into something is tolerating or even supporting the extensive use of punishment. He also states that through this time the perspective that the only way to deal with misbehavior was to make the punishments worse and worse was adopted. This violation of prisoner’s rights, that has become widely accepted, is worsened through the identity that prison guards develop because of the stigma that maximum security inmates carry with them. This caused the guards to see the inmates as the worst in the country and this causes guards to be very cautious and demanding. This environment gives the guards dominating power. Dominating power is defined as the power that is successful in controlling and coercing others. (Anderson, pg. 54) Haney also says that this abusiveness behavior by the guards stem from the view that it’s always the prisoners fault and that whatever happens is justified. Also within prisons it is agreed that correctional officers develop macho values. (Haney, pg. 966) In order to further analyze whether or not the macho culture among the guards is a factual conclusion:
I interviewed a retired prison guard from the Lewisburg Penitentiary. Does the environment within the prison cause the staff to inhabit a macho culture?
“Unfortunately yes in some cases um and it’s really a very slippery slope when you take on that machoness on in the institution because the inmates have to follow orders given by staff members and if you abuse that privilege by being macho your putting yourself at risk with the inmates and your putting fellow staff members at risk with the inmates. It’s always been my thought process that staff members should go in and be fair but firm. If the inmate has a question or concern answer the question or concern and if you don’t answer let them know you will get the answer. Most of the time If the answer is yes or no their fine with that it’s just the uncertainty there not good with but unfortunately the machoness leads against that were its more I told you to do this and it’s because I told you to do this that leads to a lot of hostility between staff and inmates.”
To further demonstrate how cruel and brutal these prisons are, local prison expert, Karen Morin, wrote a paper on the injustices that are occurring at a specific federal penitentiary, the Lewisburg Penitentiary. This paper includes many firsthand accounts of violations of the 8th amendment by the prison guards. One specific account in the form of a letter by an inmate named Ray said:
“They put me in a cell with one of my enemies. They noticed we were about to fight and still walked away from the cell after they unhandcuffed us both”
In Morin’s research a conclusion is drawn that the guards are always giving the inmates constant threats. For example in the Lewisburg Penitentiary there is a multi step plan that the inmates have to complete in order to become eligible to be released in to a regular prison. This leveled program gives the guards a mass amount of leverage. The inmates have also quoted the guards who say “we make our own rules here”. (Morin, pg393) This seems as if this is just a power hungry statement by correctional officers but it is actually true, prisons operate separate from the judicial systems. Each prison makes their own decisions on what they want to do with each inmate.
To further display how prison guards can be cruel and unusual; a very useful experiment called the Stanford Prison Experiment shows us how easily the role of being a corrections officer can be taken too far. Phillip Zimbardo’s purpose for this experiment was to show the psychological effects of being a prisoner or prison guard. Zimbardo selected from the students at Stanford and he randomly assigned them to either a guard or a prisoner. The following interviews of the experiments participants show how real this experiment became.
Stanford Prison Experiment Audio Clip from Youtube:
In conclusion Federal Prisons create a place where undesired identities are developed. Both the prisoners and the guards suffer from physical and mental damage due to the culture of masculinity that is created. Finally even though these inmates have done something to end up in jail they do deserve certain rights that are guaranteed to all citizens.
Act 4: Women’s Bodies and Reproductive Health
By Taryn Pontolillo
Access to affordable and relevant health services and to accurate, comprehensive health information are fundamental human rights. Yet, gender-based discrimination, lack of access to education, as well as poverty, and violence against women and girls can all prevent these rights from being realized– these challenges are often particularly acute when it comes to sexual and reproductive health rights and safe motherhood. The rights of women, and their ability to exercise them, now depend on where they live, and whether their state legislatures have been overrun by politicians hostile to women, doctors, and the rights of both. Millions of women are being denied their constitutional right to make their own decisions about their families and their future. These inequities in women’s health in the United States are shameful, are a violation of human rights, and are, of course, directly related to the quality and availability of family planning and reproductive health care. Without acknowledging the lack of representation women have in their own health decisions, women cannot truly experience the ‘American Dream.’
I hadn’t payed much attention to my rights as a woman until it was critical to my future. Two years into my college career, I found myself pregnant, and it definitely was not expected. I had always been careful, but nothing is foolproof. I grew up on the West Coast, where the mindset about women’s health tends to be more liberal and openminded. I began to notice the stark differences between how women’s bodies are viewed back home, and how I have come to believe women’s bodies are viewed on the East Coast. The health center on campus is not a place where I would be able to trust and find reliable information, nor would I even feel comfortable. There seems to be a lag in peoples’ beliefs around here. In Arizona, I have known many young girls who have gone through similar struggles, but have had easier times making decisions for themselves, while also having access. Hearing stories of women who are unable to make a decision that affects both their bodies and the lives of their families is heartbreaking, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. I am lucky to have grown up in a community where I did have the right to make my decision, and felt empowered that I was making the choice as it was the best decision for me. Variance on abortion ideologies is enormous across the U.S. The rising percentage of teenage pregnancy is the result of young women simply being able to choose and these women residing in restrictive, more conservative states. As a young woman about to enter the workforce, I am uneasy about the future of women’s health care. While we are progressing somewhat as a society, the fear that we will further regress into patriarchal mind-views of women is in the back of my mind. The control of women’s bodies is currently at the mercy of male politicians and lawmakers. If the tables were turned, they would not wish to be told what to do for their health. Why must women’s voices about their health be subdued. Women have to keep fighting because the battle for control of our bodies is not over.
This year marks the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that affirmed a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion. Yet, anti-abortion state politicians continue to relentlessly attack this right, in the hopes of overturning Roe and preventing women from obtaining abortions. In the first 6 months of 2013, state lawmakers enacted 43 restrictions on abortion, including outright bans. This is the second highest number of enacted restrictions at the mid-year mark, and equal to the total number of restrictions enacted in 2012.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday November, 19, refused to stop Texas from implementing a part of a new abortion law that requires doctors to get admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic where they’re providing abortion services.
A federal appeals court had reinstated the key part of the law, which is considered among the most restrictive in the country.
Abortion-rights groups, which say more than a third of centers that had provided abortions in Texas have since stopped, then asked the Supreme Court to overturn the appeals court ruling.
The original lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Austin by Planned Parenthood on behalf of more than a dozen women’s health care providers across Texas, alleged the state’s new abortion law violates the constitutional rights of women and puts unreasonable demands on doctors who perform abortions.
There are so many battles facing young women today. In the United States, our crumbling health system has created a world where very few, regardless of sex or gender, can receive adequate health care, and drug companies have worked hard to see that those who do, are full of dubious long-term drugs. Hysterectomies are still endemic, despite strong evidence that unnecessary gynecological surgery shortens the lifespan. The right to a safe abortion is as ever, under assault. The rights of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender people continue to be abused and curtailed. The political challenges of childbirth and motherhood continue unresolved. As ever, young women, and even as young women reap the benefits, the expanded education and career opportunities earned in many ways by second wave feminists, they struggle to negate a society that treats women and men, mothers and fathers differently, and always ask women to make fantastically difficult choices, and suffer in a vocational world that is sadly still rife with sexism. Teenage and pre-teen women must contemplate a society where drug makers insist that periods are unnecessary and the burden of STD prevention is still predominantly female. In this world, we must define and fight the new healthcare battles of the 21st century and carry for the women’s health movement.
These state restrictions are a dangerous overreach into women’s personal medical decisions. Our government should ensure that all women have access to affordable, quality health care not only because it is morally the right thing to do, but because it is the smart and necessary thing to do to strengthen the entire country. Critical indicators such as maternal mortality, teen pregnancy, and unintended pregnancy illustrate the high cost of treating women’s health care as a privilege instead of a right. Women’s health care providers are being harassed and intimidated until they are forced to close their doors and end their practices. Safe and affordable reproductive health care, such as access to birth control, maternal health care, and abortion services, is increasingly difficult to find if you are poor or living somewhere outside a metropolitan area.
The debate surrounding women’s health rights is found on both the state, and national scale. How we respond to the current political tides impacts the number of women’s health centers, and options left open to women.
All women have the right to accessible, affordable and adequate health care that takes into account their cultural needs. They have the right to access health care without discrimination. And they have the right to health care that responds to their particular needs as women.
Even though our country was founded on a distinct set of principals that give people hope for success and longevity, there is often a struggle that arises for individuals of different identities desiring to fulfill our unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness guaranteed in our country’s Constitution.