A word cloud of themes from our postcards
Peace At The Capitol
Ashley Reed 
My photo features a homeless black woman in her mid-40’s named Peace, in front of the Texas Capitol building on November the 2nd, 2012. She was wearing a huge American flag, tied around her like some type of toga. Although it is not pictured, on her back, she carried every belonging that she owned with her, in an oversized, misshapen backpack. A necklace with an aluminum foil charm in the shape of an eagle rested on her chest, and she held a card that read “We the People” in her right hand. In her left hand, she gripped a makeshift torch made out of old newspaper, and on her head sat a crown made out of masking tape and fabric strips. She faced the afternoon sun, and assumed a pose much like Lady Liberty’s almost instinctually. Behind her, the Capitol towered into a clear blue sky, a majestic reminder of the principles our country was founded on. Parts of the main building and dome were in shadow as the sun was just beginning to set when the picture was taken.
When I first saw Peace, I was confused. Why was she here, dressed this way? She was obviously homeless, and I knew it would get a little chillier the closer the sun slipped to horizon. Didn’t she have better things to do? 
The quintessential American Dream is a slippery concept to grasp. The moment I thought I had it, my logic would  seep between my finger tips and eek away across the floor with the knowledge of a goal unfulfilled somewhere.  It is an occurrence that is equal parts myth, hard-work, hope, and chance. Frequently, we look at the end products of the phenomenon: the millionaire who was once just a self made man with a few dollars to his name, or the successful businesswoman who’s parents emigrated to America so that she could have opportunities. As a society, we do not often consider the process. 
Like many others, for me, the American Dream is the opportunity to achieve a goal, lifestyle, or dream that would not be possible anywhere else. However, in my opinion, it is also the optimism that this can still happen after many disappointments, failures, and setbacks. It is believing in the magic that this land possesses, even while living a life that has no evidence of said wonder. 
Peace probably had some tough breaks in her life. Somehow she ended up with nothing else to her name but a backpack and the clothes she wore. But still, she stood, unwavering, on the lawn in front of the Capitol, a southern reincarnation of the statue of liberty. She was not bitter, angry, nor did she seek anything to gain from the many people who asked to take her picture. She was there because she believed in the American Dream, truly. 
Some viewers of this photo may believe that the reason Peace carries a card with the first words of our constitution is because she suffers from a sort of mental illness. Others may believe that her fervent grip of her paper torch comes from nothing but naiveté. I personally believe that she assumed her position because of a strong belief; belief in the principles of our country, belief in the opportunities of America, and belief in the magic of the American Dream. 
Check ‘Yes’ for Equality
KC Morris
The attached image “Check ‘Yes’ for Equality” is a photo of a physically handicapped man in a wheelchair at a voting booth at the Flawn Academic Center at the University of Texas at Austin, on the day of the 2012 presidential election, November sixth.  This man wearing a striped short-sleeved button-down shirt is voting from his motorized scooter and is wearing a black helmet, accessories that are incongruous with his fellow voters.  The four people lined up beside him do not display any obvious physical disability, and are all standing at their voting booths, wearing backpacks.  
The American Dream is the idea that generalizes the freedoms one hopes to find by coming to America that are available to all people, which include opportunities to live under a non-oppressive government that is democratically elected, to freely practice the religion of your choosing, to find economic success in the classic “rags to riches” American way, which can lead to educational opportunities for your children to live a life better than your own.  Unfortunately, in this land of opportunity and equality, many have found the American Dream to be an intangible smokescreen that is offered to all, but held out of reach.  
The United States Declaration of Independence states, “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.”  One way that Americans are able to exercise this pursuit is by taking part in the democratic process by voting, which is a fundamental Constitutional right.  The Constitution has been amended many times to specify the ways that a citizen’s right to vote cannot be denied, however the document does not currently explicitly ensure the right to vote, as can historically be seen in the Civil Rights movement and women’s suffrage.  
Throughout history, the global outlook on those with physical or mental disabilities is very much split between the beliefs that these persons are either possessed by demons, are impure, and therefore must be outcast or killed, or they are looked upon with reverence and seen as special, but must be reluctantly taken care of.  Though American treatment of those with disabilities (or anyone who is in any way different, whether by age, race, color, sex, or religion) has not always been fair, in recent years, legislators have been working toward upholding this country’s most fundamental statement of intent. 
The Voting Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits discrimination in voting practices because of a person’s race, was amended in 1975 to include those who didn’t speak English in the voting process, and then again in 1982 under the Voting Accessibility for the Elderly and Handicapped Act (VAEHA) to ensure assistance was given to those who are blind or have other disabilities .  However, in this year’s 2012 presidential election, as many as 3.2 million Americans with disabilities were unable to exercise their right to vote, as “a Government Accountability Office report after the 2008 election found that only 27% of polling places had no obstacles for disabled voters,”  which includes those using canes or walkers.  
Luckily for those with handicaps living in Austin, like the man pictured in the picture “Check ‘Yes’”, the American Dream is very much alive and accessible thanks to the hard work of the Texas legislators who fully comply with the laws that require all public buildings to be handicap accessible.  Though his right to vote does not prevent people from looking at him with pity, sympathy, or uneasiness, his optimism and belief in the American Dream are made clear by his action in taking part in the democratic process that distinguishes America as a land of opportunity.
This photograph shows a construction worker building a new apartment complex while students below walk to and from the university. With this photograph, I attempted to show the polarization of the American Dream. The man working on the building has a very different life than that of the girl walking on the street below but they are both living out versions of the American Dream.
The American Dream is, like all dreams, a fantasy. It is a romanticized idea of opportunity in America. It is the notion that if one is to come here and work hard enough then they can rise to the top and make it big like Andrew Carnegie or Arnold Schwarzenegger. In reality, success in America is not that simple and while we claim to be the land of opportunity, there are still significant differences in the paths available to different Americans. The men who wake up at five in the morning to go to this construction site and work until sundown probably were not born with the same opportunities that the guy walking back to his fraternity house in West Campus was. 
Our tendency when talking about the American Dream is to look only at the success stories. We talk about the young boy from inner-city Chicago who goes on to get a PhD from Princeton  but we fail to mention the number of his classmates that dropped out before graduating high school. We’ll have a television special about the Dominican immigrant who revolutionized the American fashion industry but we ignore the plight of thousands of immigrants who work long days for low pay, barely being able to feed their children or provide them with proper healthcare. This creates a confirmation bias in which we appeal to the idea that everyone does have an equal opportunity for success in America.
We have decided to push those who do not fit into our idea of the American Dream aside and claim that they are unsuccessful because they are lazy or lack the drive required to succeed in America.  This societal view is reflected in the photograph where our eyes are immediately drawn to the students walking with backpacks or talking on their cellphones. It is not until further inspection that you see the man in the hard hat, bent over on the construction platform sawing a wooden board in half. The walls that have been put up around the site further visualize the metaphorical barrier between these two versions of the American Dream: the ambitious youthful faces of students walking to and from campus and the worn and weathered faces of the laborers above them. 
This photograph attempts to show America for what it truly is, a land of opportunity and freedom for some and a land of great limitations and barriers for others. It’s land of both boundless promise and injustice. This photograph is meant to remind us that we still have a long ways to go before the American Dream becomes an American Reality.
Gathering to Imagine a New Dream
Emily Smith
 “The American Dream” is ambiguous in its definition, since it supposedly belongs to such a large and varied group of people. For me, it encompasses many values and aspirations that I repeatedly encounter being portrayed as desirable – some which I find admirable, some of whose actuality or validity I am eager to question, and some of which I am skeptical of being actually desirable. These include the possession of equal and unalienable human rights, equality of opportunity and access to education, economic stability, discretionary income, workplace success, leisure time, and a healthy family. The recurring theme I see associated with the American Dream that interests me the most is that of attaining upward social mobility. We are taught in history lessons from grade school to high school that America has been and still is a “land of opportunity”, free from the repressive European aristocracies and hierarchies, where upward social mobility is fully possible through hard work, if one simply pulls himself up by his bootstraps. However, in actuality, our society is becoming increasingly stratified, and many folks are caught in situations of poverty, downward mobility, and frustration due much more to structural and social forces beyond their control than their personal efforts. The classic definition of the Dream is attainable, but not attainable for all. Therefore, though I may not go so far as to call for “the American Dream” to be redefined as “the American Illusion”, I will say that I believe it is appropriate that the term is not “the American Promise.” 
 For those not caught in poverty, another curious aspect of the pursuit of the American Dream that befalls them the materialism often associated with it. Americans seem to not only want to make a living, but to make a better living and have more income then the generation they came from, and to display their economic success by “keeping up with the Joneses.” Consumerism as symbolic of success and fulfillment, and success meaning earning as much money as possible, are assumptions with a historical precedent that can still be seen as today. In fact, the man who first penned phrase “American Dream” in his 1931 book The Epic of America, James Truslow Adams, expressed concern about purely monetary goals. He questioned “how it was that we came to insist upon business and money-making and material improvement as good in themselves; how they took on the aspects of moral virtues; how we came to consider an unthinking optimism essential… how size and statistics of material development came to be more important in our eyes than quality and spiritual values… how we forgot to live, in the struggle to ‘make a living’; how our education tended to become utilitarian or aimless; and how other unfortunate traits only too notable today were developed.” 
This photograph documents a large gathering of people in the interior dome of the Texas state capitol building. They are sitting on the floor of the building and creating a large circular formation. Many different ages, races and sexes are represented, and a good number of people are sitting, relaxed and barefooted, on colorful yoga mats while imposing portraits of former Texas Governors look on. Some are glancing down at cellular phones that they are holding, some are looking around and/or conversing with each other, a few are looking up, and a few are holding small children. Almost all are sitting cross-legged, in anticipation. I, the photographer, can perceive this entire scene because of my strategic position: leaning over the rail on the second floor of the capitol building.
This image could be said to exemplify American values enshrined in our Bill of Rights, such as the freedom of assembly. While I recognize this, I also recognize that many other countries also have these rights, so I don’t believe that they contribute to the elusive uniqueness of the American Dream. What is striking about this scene to me is the mass public expression of commitment to post-material values and dreams. All of these people gathered on November 11th, 2012, to meditate at the same time that many other meditation groups took place across the country and world. For at least part of their day, and within the physical location of a governmental institution, these American citizens were lucky enough to be able to place spiritual fulfillment’s importance over that of economic aspirations.
FDR once reminded the nation that the accomplishment of the American Dream allows us “freedom from want, not freedom to want.” If one is lucky enough to have avoided poverty or to have risen out of it, I feel it is important to thoughtfully consider what your dream for yourself and your world is, rather than assuming that you ought to pursue whatever you’ve been taught “the American Dream” is. And I believe that the people in this photograph have strived to do this.
Ashley Vasquez
The American Dream is an idea that has lured countless people to the United States. It’s the rosy picture of owning your own home with a white picket fence, having a beautiful family, and overall a very comfortable lifestyle. My mother came to the states with this idea that life will be better for both of us. My story is similar to countless others in that we have this belief in attaining the dream. My idea of the American Dream is along these same lines. My idea of the dream is achieved by taking a risk in trying to better your own life. It’s about putting yourself in a position that is frightening, but persevering because the reward is great.  I believe that the American Dream is attainable. I believe this because of the friends I have made, the people I have met, and how far they have come from across the world to study in the U.S. 
In this picture there are two Americans and two international students. The girl in the picture is the first in her family to go to college. The boy in the front has a father who majored in aerospace engineering. The two in the back are both seniors majoring in petroleum engineering. One is from Pakistan, the other from Malaysia. The room is the study room at the Taos Student Coop on Guadalupe Street. The international students are studying for an exam they have in the morning. The Texas residents are working on physics, one explaining pressure to another. The time is 2 a.m. They are running on coffee and sheer will. They are studying as a way to achieve what I believe to be the American Dream.
Coming from diverse backgrounds, living entirely different lives, yet brought together in this same room for the same purpose: to receive an education. I see education as a great equalizer. No one can say they are better than you if you have gained confidence stemming from rigorous academic preparation. These students have made the decision on their own to take this route. For some of the students this decision meant leaving home to an entirely different country.  For others it meant trying to live up to the expectations and standards of their families. They are making an investment in their time and their lives that may or may not payoff. The American Dream, as I view it, rewards those who take risks. I see taking the risk of education as one of those risks that entail the American Dream. This risk is supposed to open doors for people who prove they have knowledge and skills.
People really cannot know the pay-off of their education until later in life when they can look back on whether their education has made a difference. Looking at these students they may not immediately see the pay-off as they stay up late studying. But even if they don not see it, they are determined to get through college. The American Dream is about the hard worker. The person who pushes himself to work through whatever he must to achieve a goal. I think these students, studying late at night, waking in the morning after a brief slumber, sprawled on these couches represent the American Dream.  
A Dream Deterred
Hand-in-hand, cotton and the railroad brought forth the formative identity of the American West. The introduction of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin in the 1790 yielded a fifty-fold increase in production capacity, driving the rise to preeminence of that staple crop, while in the first two decades of the nineteenth century the railroad industry rapidly emerged as the true heart of the nation, providing the circulatory lines by which the evergrowing exopolis’ of the western frontier received nutriment from the East. The umbilical cord of the railroad provided westward movement with the continual matronly re-assurance of city industry. The pioneer was never long past the corner and into the unknown darkness before hearing the comforting sound of steel being laid close behind. The growth of the railroad reorganized capital concentration. The hubs of industry became those set adjacent to it steel avenues while the hinter regions were quickly drained of economic power, an early casualty of American expansion.
The visioneers of the West jet forth across the continent in search of the thick loam upon which to perpetuate the “king” crop, cotton. But growth was always at the expense of exploitation. The pursuit of fertile land propelled the displacement of endless Native populations, while the plantation systems that quickly sprung up in their stead demanded vast amounts of African-American slave labor to sustain itself. Meanwhile, the emergence of Jacksonian herrenvolk democracy increasingly cast this exploitation along robust racial lines. Once again, western expansionists were permitted the comforting assurance of their eastern parent, with federal treaty negotiations, removal policies, and the Missouri Compromise all assuring the unobstructed continuance of this cotton-fed, steel machine of oppression. Manifest destiny and American exceptionalism, born of millenarian ideology mixed with a liberal reinterpretation of the Monroe Doctrine, were thereby articulated in a language of racialized commoditization. By the time of Texas’s annexation in 1845 and the resultant Treaty of Guadalupe
Hidalgo and Compromise of 1850, King Cotton and the railroad were promising domination from sea to shining sea. Therefore, while the West would not reach its zenith until the moment when Frederick Jackson Turner delivered his eulogy in 1893, domestic expansionism had realized its inevitable end forty years earlier, and at this moment the American dream of boundless domination and commercialization met face-to-face with mortality.
In this photo of a cotton field in Socorro, TX, located adjacent to an elementary school and near a series of concrete strip malls, one perceives the decline of King Cotton from greatness to the quotidian, while the blurred lines of progress disappear into a blank unknown behind it. The proud, purposeful strides of expansionism once made through the arterial veins of America have been diminished to routine deliveries performed by nondescript, transnational shipping companies. Meanwhile, cotton, the staple crop which fueled the American imagination and the American dream is now shown in its true nature: an indistinct commodity.America found new expression for its dominating impulse in the form of overseas imperialism in the late nineteenth century and commercialization continues to resound in every aspect of American life. Nonetheless, in this photo we perceive a moment when the breathless aspirations of our industrial forefathers met with the physical limits of avarice.
Why are you so stupid? This is the question that was asked by one of Emily’s teachers. Emily is a timid, poor, delightful ten-year-old girl who I used to tutor at the Salvation Army. Throughout life Emily has been slapped with countless belittling remarks. Once Emily told me her story about her insensitive teacher, I was appalled by how clinical a teacher could be towards a girl who is struggling to learn English. By tutoring Emily and giving her the care and attention that her teachers and parents have failed to give her, I have been able to heal her wounds of insecurity. 
As time passed I began to learn the intricate details of Emily’s life. One day when I was reading “The Kissing Hand”, a story about family, she suddenly broke into tears (Figure 1). For the next forty minutes, Emily began telling me about how sometimes she has to witness her stepfather hit her mother when he has too many drinks (Figure 1). Or how her stepfather throws beer at her when he is extremely drunk and how her mother stays mute when these incidents happen. In figure 1 there is a lot of background “noise” to highlight the chaos that Emily has to constantly live in. Furthermore, in figure 1 the two girls are holding hands to demonstrate how I have to stand by Emily’s side so that she sees that she is not alone in this world. Likewise, the two girls are reading a book in order to illustrate the idea I have engraved into Emily’s mind, that no matter what obtaining a college education is vital. I constantly tell Emily that an education will help her from being trapped in poverty for the rest of her life. That is why my experience with Emily has motivated me to further volunteer in places where I can be the advocate for these children.
This is what the American Dream means to me being able to help those who are less fortunate, so that society can further flourish. The American Dream is different for everyone and it often involves money and success. However, I have an altruistic view towards the American Dream, because my belief is that in order for one to live in a productive society, citizens must be well informed and educated. But how is this possible when there is a vast disparity between the rich and the poor? Only 28% of children who attend a high poverty school enroll in a four-year institution  . But only 9% of those students obtain a college diploma  . Children like Emily often times do not do well in school, because they have many problems at home and cannot fully focus in school. Often times a person’s situation seems completely hopeless, but usually it does more good to focus on a positive outcome rather than to engulf oneself with deep pessimistic beliefs. If one chooses to just dwell on the negative, one might themselves on an ongoing cycle of hopelessness. However, this is challenging for children who are brimming with dreams and hopes, but are crushed when the adults in their lives abuse them. This to me is devastating, and I seek for the rest of my life to be the source of hope to those who are left in the midst of despair.  
That is why I am a firm believer that more social responsibility will create a domino effect that will reduce the socio-economic gaps, diminish the poverty rates in America, and ultimately create a generation that is driven to cultivate a less turbulent world. I am prompted each day of my life to achieve my American dream by helping those Emilys in the world who are deceived by their environments into believing they will be failures in life.
America Lives on Valentine Street
Aidan Myles Green
This photograph embodies the revelation of the true significance of 3832 Valentine Street in Fort Worth’s Cultural District. A quaint, pastel-blue shelter that sports a grassless, stray cat-ridden front yard and an industrial scrap-metal jungle of a backyard, this American monolith has birthed and housed the most important people in my life. A family friend, Marco Marvelli, marches across the home’s porch in a cheap Captain America Halloween costume, personifying a youthful, energetic, and naïve-yet-convicted American spirit that pervades the grounds to this day.
The house belongs to my grandfather, Ricardo Neaves, and my grandmother, Ana Maria Neaves. Immigrants from Mexico in 1956, they carved a living in America, with my grandmother cleaning houses and my grandfather repairing and moving common household appliances such as air conditioners, refrigerators, and more. These appliances still litter the house’s backyard, and no matter how many city citations are threatened and issued, my grandfather refuses to clean up. They all still signify projects-in-progress to him, a supply of never-ending labor that is fully emblematic of his everlasting American spirit. Ironically, the backyard’s metallic plethora is in direct contrast to the pictured front yard’s barren body. It bears sparse grass and stray cats, complete with overgrown tree branches that illustrate my grandfather’s disregard for aesthetic in favor of more directly progressive, labor-intensive work. My grandmother has humbly tried to beautify the yard with scattered potted plants to little avail.
The American Dream is all too often relegated to things monetary or material. Given this warped perception, how can this diminutive house – and this dump of a front yard, for all intents and purposes – illuminate or embody anything Americans should strive for? The answer is simple and apparent in the photograph; my grandparents own all of this, in a way far removed from the singularly material sense mentioned above. They own every marker etch on the kitchen doorframe that denotes their grandchildren’s progressive heights, and every homemade tortilla and empanada that has filled the bellies of my siblings and me as our parents worked tenaciously to pay off our own house. Many people want “everything” America has to offer. “Everything” too often consists of a mansion and a two-car garage that houses this year’s newest Chrysler model. My grandparents’ residence represents the very-alive American Dream because they came to America with nothing, and by the sweat of their brow and skin of their teeth, they attained everything they wanted: comfort, family, and love. They work hard to sustain their comfort, and have nurtured the latter two – family and love – in spades. I can safely attest that my grandparents’ legacy – my parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and everything that they have in turn accomplished – is their greatest joy in life. All of this is encapsulated in the small house pictured that not many people give a second look to. The grounds are easily dismissed as ragged and substandard by outside opinions, but what the house embodies is everything my grandparents dreamt of when they risked everything to come to the United States.
My grandparents are old, and are aging closer and closer to the end of their lives. This house ages with them, bearing all of their American memories and experiences. While life passes away, my grandparents’ American spirit remains young and agile as ever. This spirit incessantly marches across the yard in his metaphorical Captain America suit, pervading every aspect of these Americans’ life. From his political stickers to his proudly-flaunted American truck, my grandfather retains every iota of his American essence, day in and day out. He and my grandmother’s very existence as true Americans is the reason this photograph exists. What more could the American Dream be?
Field of Dreams
Krystal Herrera
You look at this picture, and you see a rundown little league baseball field. I look at this picture and I see a field of hope, dreams and opportunities. This picture was taken on November 11, 2012 at South Side Lions Park in San Antonio, Texas. I’m standing behind home plate like an umpire because they are the only one on the field who can look out and see the big picture. You look straight out and you see a scoreboard and if you look past the scoreboard, you can see a row of houses and the start to a neighborhood. To the left you can see a path leading to third base and to the right you see a path leading you to first base. The grass, although looks as if it hasn’t been cut is nice and green, and the dirt well its perfect leading you to each base and the pitcher’s mound. Although there is a wire fence along the perimeter of the outfield, this little league field is pretty much open and just waiting for someone to come and play. 
For the most part, society has instilled in me that if you picture the American Dream; you picture a mere white picket fence in front of a fancy house. This picture describes success but my picture describing success involves dirt, grass, and a wire fence.  Building a baseball/softball complex like this one in the middle of my neighborhood and starting my own little league is my American Dream.  With this complex and little league I will not only be giving back to my neighborhood but I will be able to prove to myself that I have become successful. 
The American Dream has different meanings to different people but I believe everyone has a chance to achiever their American dream. If you have goals, dreams or aspirations, you can reach the American Dream.  Success and giving back are two aspects of what I believe the American Dream is.  No matter where I end up in life, I will never forget the neighborhood I come from.  I know where it all started, and it is a part of me. I feel like I owe something back because where I grew up, it was a push into wanting something better. Back home is also where I started playing little league and I feel like that alone taught me a little bit about responsibility, competition, as well as sportsmanship. I am a role model in my neighborhood and that makes me feel successful. Back home, people say “look at Krystal, if she can do it so can you!” and I’m glad that people can look to me as an example for the next generations because another part of the American Dream is wanting better for the next generations.  Neither of my parents was able to graduate high school and they wanted to make sure I had the opportunity to do this and more. 
I want the next generation to be able to succeed in everything that they do, and why not let them get start by playing in a little league. Being from the same neighborhood as the player’s gives them hope that they too can amount to something.  My picture gives me hope that I will one day have a field of my own; an American Dream is full of hope.