I have a friend who currently lives overseas but who grew up in America. She has almost totally opposite views of America, world politics, and social obligations than I do, but I like her very much and respect her points of view, regardless of how off the mark I might think she is (almost all the time). I think she feels the same way toward me. She posted a piece in her blog the other day, that I have hijacked and reposted here, along with my response to it. I hope she approves of my reposting of her blog entry. If she does not, she will surely let me know and I will remove it. I hope she, instead, smiles and sticks out her tongue at me. Without further ado, I present my friend, Molly.
"For my 200th post, I'd like to write a few thoughts on my home. I have spent most of my life in protest of the things America represents and the things the American government does in our name with our money. But something has been sticking in my brain over the weekend. On Friday, I interviewed a Sri Lankan family for an in-depth I am working on. The parents, three daughters and aunt are recognized refugees seeking to be resettled. When the 17-year-old daughter asked Stan (name changed) and me where we are from, I responded "America."
She gave a smile and repeated what I said with excitement. I moved on to my first question and forgot about the moment, but I keep thinking about it. I thought people stopped romanticizing the United States back in the Ellis Island days. I was puzzled to think this bright, young woman would think anything special about my country. If I read the situation correctly, she may have some drastically exaggerated ideas about the US, but she may also have a point.
Perhaps America really is to be admired. At least, in comparison to the region I now find myself. I just can't think of why at the moment. All America has going for it my mind is that it's not here. I'll keep pondering."
Being considerably older, having served our country for 6 years, having lived for years at a time in different cultures, and having advanced myself from true poverty to success in America through toil and sacrifice and long hours, my perspective is quite different than that of my young friend. My response to her blog post follows.
"Your Sri Lankan friend has a drastically different perspective than you do, my idealistic but (unknowingly spoiled) young friend. She hears "America" and remembers the letters she got from her mother's brother talking about his trip to America where he ended up staying and now owns a chain of small retail stores and to this day sends her mother enough money every month, to feed the entire family. Or perhaps she hears stories that in America, she can sleep in her own soft bed off the floor, or that she can actually own her own car and be allowed to drive it wherever she wants. Maybe she just sees on her 1965 black and white television that it seems that most of the roads in America are paved and that the poor people are fat instead of bony with distended bellies.
Maybe she is educated and knows that the per capita GDP (with purchasing power parity) in Sri Lanka is $4,764 and that approximately 43% of household consumption was spent on food versus in America the average GDP is $45,934. My eyes would get big too if I knew there was a magical land where I could move to and my children had the opportunity to make 10 times what I make and that I won't ever again have to worry about hunger. Growing up in a wealthy nation, very few of today's youth have the perspective to truly grasp the dichotomy between the greatly varied worlds found on our planet. I can get on a plane and fly to an earthquake devastated land and build houses out of the rubble for two weeks; houses that are cherished despite their lack of running water or electricity. That experience is vastly different than living there. Living in a place where the women do all the work and the men dress well but have no concept of going to work. Instead they sit around all day and do nothing, all the while dressed to the nines.
There is only the perspective of the lifestyle we grow up in, the one that is most indelibly stamped on our identity. Some of us were blessed to have been born in America. Born in a country where the vast majority of us are kept warm when it snows and have cool air in the house in the summer. Where food is on the table and someone loves us. Yes, you mention "America" and I smile too."
I truly like the author of the above blog, despite her naivete. Maybe she will stick to her guns and insist that America is evil. I think it more likely that she will one day wake up and realize that despite her faults, America is the best country in the world to be born in, to live in, and to defend.
America. To want to eliminate her flaws is noble. To correctly identify her flaws is difficult. To actually effect the necessary change to make her better is extremely difficult and dangerous because the risk of lessening her is so great. A steady hand at the tiller is required at all times. Hold accountable those men and women elected to stand on her bridge.