Dreams of Achievement: a Critical Metaphor Analysis of the American Dream

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Dreams of (Under)Achievement: A Critical Metaphor Analysis of the American Dream and the Formation of Language Policy in Arizona
Eric Johnson
Arizona State University
In this era of heightened xenophobia, it is important to look beyond the daily avalanche of negative media and consider why there is such widespread fear of foreigners. In an attempt to understand such an immense problem, the current situation of immigrant and language-minority students in Arizona will be discussed. Understanding how communities are shaped through the implementation of language policies illuminates the social processes involved in the cultural and linguistic oppression of minoritized groups. Specifically, the pervasive metaphor of the American Dream will be analyzed as a tool to promote anti-immigrant policies within the media. While this study sketches out the relationship between language ideologies and education, Fauconnier’s (1997) approach to metaphor analysis is applied to uncover the semantic foundation of the American Dream. This alternative view of the American Dream highlights the physical and structural obstacles that are frequently brushed over in the media during discussions concerning immigrants. Introduction

The intersection of education and language
policy has produced one of the most contentious
debates throughout the U.S. in recent years. In
2000, the Arizona Proposition 203 campaign gained
overwhelming public approval by claiming that
Arizona’s bilingual education programs impeded
English acquisition by language-minority students.
Currently, language-minority students in Arizona are
placed into sheltered English immersion classes for
a period not normally intended to exceed one year
before being mainstreamed into the regular education
(i.e., all English) classroom. Established within a
context of educational apathy and social antipathy,
it is necessary to look at the impetus for language
policies like Proposition 203 and the strategies
used to promulgate them to the voting public.
This paper looks at the formation of public
opinion toward immigrants, bilingual education,
and language-minority students by considering
how economic success and social integration are
portrayed by the media in terms of the American
Dream. To many, the American Dream connotes
economic success and security. To others, just having
the chance to live and work in the U.S. constitutes
the American Dream. But what does the American
Dream really mean? Why is this ubiquitous concept

so influential in American society? How is it used
to motivate vast groups of people? The notion of
the American Dream is far reaching and appears
in many different social realms. It is repeatedly
used by politicians to promote their latest policies;
it is frequently heard and seen in commercial
advertisements; and, most importantly, it is often
the reason many immigrants move to the U.S. In
order to better understand the power inherent in the
concept of the American Dream, this discussion
analyzes the semantic structure of the underlying
metaphor and demonstrates how it is used within
a sociopolitical framework to promote potentially
harmful policies targeted at immigrants. Specifically,
the American Dream metaphor will be examined
as it appeared in the media surrounding the debate
over Arizona’s anti-bilingual education law passed
in 2000. Furthermore, while the principal focus is
on how metaphorical rhetoric in the media shapes
public opinion, the underlying themes of immigrant
education and language policy span multiple fields of
investigation and are evident throughout this analysis.
Language Ideologies in the US
The ideological underpinnings to the language
debates within the United States demonstrate how
schools are used as instruments to isolate and
channel language-minority immigrants into the

Journal of Borderland Education, Vol. 1, No. 1, September 2006

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margins of society. Understanding the...
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