So what does it mean to be an American living in America today? Does it mean a big fancy house and a new car, or a degree from an elite university? Whatever the reason, I can’t help but think that Generation Y has in some way, shape, or form changed this very mantra.
Born in the early 1980’s, Generation Y is mostly composed of individuals, who are highly familiar with the latest digital technologies and vastly oriented with the social media. They are a generation which is conscious about their social environment and take on a liberal approach when it comes to politics and the economy. Yet, what is most remarkable about this generation is their innate sense of resilience and relentless pursuit towards success.
The global financial crisis of 2007-2012 hit Generation Y the hardest and with historically high levels of unemployment and college debt, many found themselves socially and economically defeated. Many college graduates were forced to move back home and were often met with bleaker if not worse circumstances. Anxious to make their voice heard however, Generation Y began to use the knowledge they already possessed and their tech savvy skills to take matters into their own hands. Soon after the 2008 elections, numerous non-profit organizations, think tanks, and blogs began to appear across the country, vying for social change. Whether it was through various online forums or self-created websites, Generation Y’s expectations for the next four years was slowly but surely making its way up on the president’s agenda.
Achievement oriented, family centric, and tech savvy are all characteristics which describe Generation Y, however not one image could have portrayed this group more accurately than Shelia Pree Bright’s exhibit Young American’s. Launched in 2008, the collection portrays a series of photographs which capture the essence of what it means to be American as Generation Y. Each portrait is unique in that it depicts a young American between the ages of 18-25 posing with the United States flag followed by a brief excerpt of what America symbolizes for that individual. As an artist, Ms. Bright explores not only young American’s perception of what America means to them but also how they perceive themselves against its ever-changing landscape.
This year, two of Ms. Bright’s portraits were placed on display for Living Walls, the City, Speaks;Atlanta’s annual art conference. The event gathered 26 female artists from around the world and granted them permission to use various building walls as their canvas. Each image is self-chosen by the artist herself and gives the viewer a glimpse of their unique cultural background. Absent from gallery walls, and museums the conference is indicative of how art can capture anyone’s attention regardless of where they are.
For her display, Ms. Bright chose the portrait of a young African American male staring down at the American flag while he contemplates its significance. The portrait stands 12 feet. by 15 feet tall and is plastered on the wall using wheat paste. As the individual grasps each side of the flag pondering his Americanism, one can’t help but think how the image indirectly reveals one of many challenges which continue to face Generation Y today.
Many individuals within this group are still skeptical about moving out and remain in a state of paranoia as to what the future holds for them. Most recently, some have even given up pursuing a higher degree, rationalizing that the costs may outweigh the benefits. Yet, as I glance back at Joshua Phifer’s image today, I can’t help but render these very thoughts myself as I look back at my own trials and tribulations. As another election approaches it is imperative that both parties heed to the values and demands of their newest constituents. Generation Y has come a long way within a matter of a few years who knows what feats they will accomplish within the next four. Unwavering in their attitudes towards social change and adamant about raising awareness about domestic policies Generation Y has paved the way for a new breed of voters and of what living in America means to them.