My friend thinks that I am against all things American. She has told me this often enough that I have to examine myself. After all, I am American…
There are certainly issues in the United States that raise my dander, my sense of responsibility, and my frustration levels.
I continue to be disturbed by inequality and lack of justice. We have made great strides in recognizing that other races and cultures are a blessing to our country rather than groups of people to be shunted aside and discriminated against. The preponderance of poverty, the proliferation of gangs, and the death of young black men, however, show the tip of the iceberg in our inability or unwillingness to address longstanding issues of equality in education and jobs.
Our collective ignorance shows itself in our continuing bilingual education which, for example, teaches English to Spanish-speaking children but limits the resource by not teaching Spanish to English-speaking students. The growing elitism by lack of government support for higher education eliminates the possibility of many bright young people attending college – or places them in such crippling debt that it takes huge commitment and a lifetime of working to pay off they loans.
Our prison systems are dead-end streets for uneducated and poverty-stricken people. I am not hugely educated about this issue but educators whom I hold in high esteem are horrified by the recidivism and lack of rehabilitation in our expensive prison system.
Our political system is in such need of overhaul that concerned voters lose their impetus to exercise their rights.
On the flip side my friend doesn’t hear me talk about the things I love about my homeland. We aren’t apt to sit around the table in animated conversation about our love of our libraries, our freedoms and our voice that can be raised over any issue we choose. Our love of the cities, the wilderness and living in our little corner of the world doesn’t garner the same attention as our worries about issues.
She hears me sing the praises of other cultures because I do travel a lot and love experiences in lifestyles different from my own. I favor the Latin American and Mediterranean countries: Italy, Mexico, Greece and even Southern France. I see myself as picking and choosing (because I don’t live in these places full-time) those aspects of the culture that I love the most. I have tried to take some of these traits home with me but they don’t always translate well.
It’s hard to sit on my front porch, a bench, or at a coffee shop, or to walk around in the evening when the temperatures drop. And I have to admit that when I get home, I rev up and become scheduled beyond the point of relaxation and prioritization that is necessary to chat with neighbors and friends.
I love the connections I make in my travels but connection seems easier in places where the lifestyle is a bit more slow-paced. In my travels I see customs that enforce connection, in fact. In Mexico, people greet each other each time they meet by saying the other’s name. They may drop the formal, “Good Morning,” but will still say, “Raul,” in a tone of acknowledgement. People don’t walk into a store and ask for a product. First, there is a greeting.. “Good afternoon, do you have…?”
Even this small token of connection creates the concept that one is truly seen as an individual, not as a clerk, a server, or a worker on the sidewalk. I acknowledge, also, that I am different when I travel. Without carrying others’ expectations, I am more free to be whoever it is that I am.
I aspire to eat at a different tempo, too. Slow food is a movement in the U.S. It is a practice elsewhere. How embarrassing to have been told, “Piano, piano,” when we were eating with a family here. Even the simplest dinner can take a minimum of two hours in Italy, for instance. Even the servers aren’t accustomed to the speed with which we eat each course.
After examination I realize that my conversation could cause my friend’s angst over my beliefs. She may think that my ranting (which I am good at, by the way) reflects all of my feelings. As she hears me rhapsodize over experiences in my travels, she doesn’t realize that I am not walking with blinders. I see the fault lines in other cultures. I just don’t have to live with them.
Well, then… the upshot of my examination? I am okay with myself, and I hope she is okay with me.