I went through a phase for a while (like many angst-y, rebellious adolescents) where I was angry at America. What about America? I don’t know; everything I suppose. Wars, education, prison system, food, television, socio-economic divide… I wanted to separate myself from America, Americans and be Un-American. American to me meant something specific which I didn’t like; consumer, lazy, fat, arrogant, obsessed with superficiality, un-artistic (is that a word?). Where did I get that image of America? Why was I so convinced that I was not American because I didn’t fit into that image?
I have been lucky enough to travel to different countries with friends, with family and by myself. When you are flying by yourself you tend to make “single serving friends” (Fight Club, anyone?) and while on a long flight from Senegal to South Africa a white South African man became my one time friend. We spoke a little bit about where we were coming from, where we were going, what we did, what the gaping holes were in the Earth below us (diamond mines, he said) and what he thought of Americans. “Americans are very… confident.” That was 3 and a half years ago, but it has stuck with me. Americans are confident?? Was that what he really meant? That’s not how I heard it. What I heard was “Americans are very…arrogant.” Read between the lines. When I was in India almost 7 years ago, I came across some anti-Americanism. While at a market (with my sister and our friend) we spent some time with a talkative man trying to sell us carpets (or scarves, or pants, or something) and when he asked us where we were from and we told him Mexico (it seemed like a better idea at that time to tell most people we were from Mexico) and he proceeded to talk mad crap on Americans. Na, I don’t think we bought anything from him, but it was entertaining in the least. And once, we were traveling through a town and stopped to watch some monkeys on a wall and when we turned to leave there was a small poster plastered on the wall with G.W. Bush’s face as skull and cross bones. The writing was in Hindi so I don’t know what it was all about, but I got the gist of it. Ya… That’s not me though, I’m different, and I’m not really all that American…Right??
I’m American to the core. I realize this the more I am away from my home country and I realize more what it means to be American. Not too recently, I was at a meeting with my community group and a man asked me to share a song from my culture (you see, here in Jamaica, every meeting starts with devotional songs and prayers) and I told him that I didn’t know any (Ya, I know, there are a gagillion American folk songs and what not, I just don’t have any memorized). He proceeded to say that that was because my country had no culture and stole from other cultures. I tried to explain that America is huge and diverse and that within regions, states, and cities there are subcultures and that is what makes America so great. But he wasn’t listening and we continued to have a friendly heated argument on my culture (and lack of culture) until someone started the meeting.
I love my space. I love diversity of food. I love my relationship with American friends. I love when time is respected. I love that as a woman I have a voice (and it continues to grow). I love American humor. I love California. I love Rialto. I love cheese. It’s in the differences where I see the similarities. Here in Jamaica, personal space is not always available. I’ve gotten used to taxi rides and don’t mind anymore when someone has to sit partially on my lap, but other than that I like to have space. In America, and especially in Southern California, you can find food from almost anywhere in the world, but here people take one look at whatever I cook and wrinkle their nose and probably won’t even bother to try it. I have realized how affectionate I am with my American friends, male and female. We hug, kiss, sleep in the same bed, share off each other’s plates and would never expect it to be more than what it is. Here, friendships with guys are a little trickier. I have lost count of how many guys have told me “I love you” or “I want to marry you” or things waaaaaaaay more inappropriate after I talk to them for a little bit. Time is a lot more relaxed here, even at places like schools and churches. I expect nothing to start on time and no one to show up when they say they will. Actually, kinda like the space thing, this is something that I am getting used to (I really hope it’s not something that sticks once I go back home though). American humor is the best. The end. Alright, maybe I’m completely biased, but we’ve got a good sense of humor and a lot of people here don’t get sarcasm which has caused some confusing moments.
I love Jamaica and I loved India and Madagascar and Mexico and I will love wherever I go next, but no matter what I pick up from these other countries I will forever have America ingrained in me (just like this Catholic guilt that I just can’t seem to shake no matter how long it’s been since I’ve gone to mass). I will not replace, but build on top of what I am. I love my Americanism. I am no longer ashamed of it, but am grateful for the opportunities it has given me. I still have my issues with some things in America, but as an adult I understand the reality that life isn’t fair, nothing is perfect and there must always be a constant strive for betterment and change with the times. I no longer hold such unfocused anger towards America anymore.