POET: G. Yamazawa, Pages Matam, Clint Smith, and Roscoe Burnems
PIECE: American Dream
Race and Ethncity
This poem redefines the American Dream through institutional discrimination faced by immigrants and people of color.

Key Lines/Phrases

Key Line/Phrase

“Like Lincoln was just a stepping stone towards freedom.
How ironic; we put his face on the only coin with coloured skin. When white
America did not prosper until it was coloured in.”

The American dream is what many strive to achieve. However, the struggles the people of color face in this country makes it difficult to attain. While it is true that one must work hard to achieve what they want in life, for certain people, there are many disadvantages and it makes for more social challenges that this group of people must overcome.

Full Transcript of Poem

The American dream is made of quicksand,
The harder you fight,
The further you’re buried.
Sinking below a prison complex that uses fourth-grade reading scores to project the number of cells needed ten
years later.
Someone explain the difference between convicts in the prisons and victims of the system.
Something is missing.
The commissioner is using people as commission.
See, capitalism is like a fisherman that keeps you coming back to the lake.
Keep at least a quarter of the population hungry.
Work to devour your check.
And then tax half the fish you get.
Not recognizing the pennies under our feet when we walk.
Like Lincoln was just a stepping stone towards freedom.
How ironic;
We put his face on the only coin with coloured skin.
When white America did not prosper until it was colored in.
The American dream is my breath stretching over oceans trying so hard to not forget my homeland.
The American dream is me being black and poor in Virginia, confused by the term commonwealth.
The American dream is being born wrapped into a star-spangled banner with a red hole in it.
The American dream is teaching in a school with more barricades than books.
Building a wall when we’re all bricklayers for the same idea.
But I’ve learned the price for having an ocean on your tongue
Because even when you have all of your papers,
The rock and hard place of a country that wants to cut you out
Will always win when it shoots.
This is the fruit of our founding fathers.
But after strawberry season, we go president-picking in November.
It’s the distraction that makes it hard for the masses to remember that the Declaration of Independence is dependent on race and gender.
But we all breathe the same.
We must make dream-catchers of our hands weaving our fingers like baskets of prayers.
Our actions are the only way our dreams will live.
Whether it’s poems, presidents or pain.
Being content is like taking naps in your own grave.
The American dream is struggling.
The American struggle is dreaming.
The struggling American dreams.
When the security is a lot more political than it is social,
who you are will always clash with whom a society beckons of you.
Wishing for white picket flesh
while living with section 8 bones
on the wasteland of the free, home of the brave.
Hand over your heart like a smallpox blanket.
The American dream is an institution.
It is immigrant experience or experience immigration.
People are more concerned about my students being documented than they are about them being human.
From Arizona’s SB 1070 to New York’s Stop-and-Frisk.
America, show us your papers!
Who documented your dreams?
Because the work of our hands and how we decide to shape this world is the deciding difference between drowning and dreaming.
And when we finally reach the surface,
that will be America’s greatest nightmare.

In-depth Analysis

The American dream is an astounding piece which illustrates the struggle that minorities deal with in America. In a time when many in people in society are too busy living their own lives to see the real struggles and injustices that are still going on in our world, this piece opens up one’s eyes to see the reality of it in the perspective of our fellow man. The power of this poem lies in a straightforward manner that these poets speak about these injustices. Stating how capitalism and the government is unfair to many. These poets’ attempt to spark a change using an eye-opening manner to get the reader to think and realize change is needed. The introduction of this poem sets up the struggle for equality so that the American dream can be reached by all not just some. This poem clearly illustrates the concept of social stratification.

The framework American Dream lends itself to is conflict theory. The poets expose the social stratification that exists. Throughout the poem, the poets also disclose the oppression being felt by the people chasing the American dream. At the beginning of the piece, the poets put it out there that the American dream is a struggle. They express how the system predetermines the future of our youth and insinuating that convicts are usually victims of the system. They speak about dominant groups keeping control over them, and how these dominant groups, hold out on and take away from the proletariat. They mention how America did not prosper until it was colored in because history has shown that all the work done to build the prosperity in this nation was done off the back of slaves and immigrants. Meanwhile, minorities are struggling. Struggling to prosper, struggling to keep their identity, and struggling to be an equal part of society while maintaining their identity and culture. Barriers are surrounding minorities everywhere. The intergenerational impact of both practical and legalized racism is limiting the abilities of minorities to accumulate wealth and prosper. The most poignant moment of the poem, where they say that when we finally reach the surface, that will be America’s greatest nightmare, illustrates how conflict theory is used.

In discussing the conflict theory, it is easy to see how these poets feel that society is a competition with limited resources and that social institutions in America reflect this competition in their inherent inequalities that help maintain the unequal social structure. Conflict theorists argue that there will be some individuals and organizations that are able to obtain and keep more resources than others, and then they use their power and influence to maintain social institutions. America’s struggles between the dominant groups and racial and ethnic minorities are seen by many. This piece shows great insight into those struggles between dominant groups and minorities and explains the feelings of that faction. Other concepts that connect with this poem are government and politics. This includes the power elite who use government to develop social policies that benefit them. The poets use the following line in their piece: “Because the work of our hands and how we decide to shape this world is the deciding difference between drowning and dreaming.” It is a powerful way to bring their work into a conclusion that creates awareness to their audience that they too have power. They just need to implement that power to make a positive change. This can refer to using their power to vote, which can make a difference and impact their communities in a positive manner that may eventually bring the change that is needed. (Diana Frayde)

Follow-up Resources/Discussions

Discussion/Follow-up Questions

Follow-up Sociology questions:

  • Is it ethical that immigrants do not have an equal chance to achieve the American dream?
  • The piece asks what the difference is between convicts in prison and victims of the system. Which leads to asking, are convicts in the prisons, victims of the system?
  • Is it ethical to have such laws like Arizona’s SB 1070 and New York’s Stop-and-Frisk?

Artist Comments

This space is reserved for any comments the author of the piece may have about the points he was trying to get across and the background of why he wrote the poem.