Tuesday, July 03, 2012

On Good Terms

Since September 11, 2006, when a Japanese host parent, someone I rightly and deeply cared about, told me that although he felt appalled about the tragedy of 9/11, he wondered if it was not a good thing. Maybe it was something that would finally make America come to her sense and stop being so "in-your-face" about every little thing: from foreign policy to cinema. 9/11, as you may know, has become a sacred day from all Americans, so my first emotion was anger that he could even bring this up on such a day. But I was pretty devastated when I really considered it. I realized I had my first taste of someone truly hating America. I had no idea how to handle it, except to shut my mouth and cry a little bit inside.

I mean, I had heard about Europe hating on the US in 2003 on the brink of Iraq invasion. I am a self-professed Freedom Fry eater and Grey Goose vodka pourer-outer in protest of France's protest. But to hear it face-to-face, by someone that I truly cared about and I knew cared about me. 

Well, it got me thinking. 
I did a lot of research.
I read a lot of blogs written by Europeans and Asians and Africans and even some Americans. I asked, I wondered, I explored the very typical question that every American asks himself at least once in his or her life, "Why do they hate us? What did we do? Why? How?"

My year in Japan was fantastic. I loved every moment of it. I stopped thinking about America. I never fit in at home anyway, and Japan embraced me like I was meant to be there. Oh, do not misunderstand, I always defended my country, of course. I believed Iraq was a good thing at first, and I have always stood by that. I believed in my country, my culture, the people who raised me, the education I received, and my home. But the more I thought about it, the more I wondered things, like, How could I be born into a country that I simply do not fit into? How could my parents, who believe America is God's gift to the Earth, have raised this child who is simply put- un-American? 

The one nice thing about this Summer of the Islands, and my mishaps in the Maldives, is that I have had time to really think about America. I still do not fit in. But I no longer feel resentful of America. I still do not look at my country the way most Americans do: I actually see the problems and refuse to pretend they are not there. I see America the way a foreigner sees America, but I can also see it the way an American sees it. It's a very enigmatic way to view one's own country; utter devotion and sheer distaste. 

I have a confession to make: I love America. I hate fast food, avoid buying jeans, protest the jingoistic wars, avoid watching reality TV - and yet, life without America is almost unthinkable. This is a shocking new revelation to me, as they'd say on the E! channel, but it turns out I've loved it all my life, since Sesame Street and the Beezus and Ramona books. 
I’ve lived in America for a long, long time, and while there are obvious things to hate about it—the exceptionalism, the inequity, some of the cultural aspects, the armies of the oblivious, both native and tourist varieties—I have never not loved it here. Part of that is about the resources that come easy to get, the ready culture, but a lot of my affection for this country involves the people. Not just my friends and acquaintances, although they’re certainly the glue that holds everything together, but the energy that comes with all that humanity, the big mix, the general beauty of the species (or, if I’m in a foul temper, the general grotesquerie of it—but this is not that tirade.)

So I love America, and I bet you do, too. Whoops, is that a further affront? I do not mean I am going outside right now on my balcony overlooking Athens, Greece to sing the Start-Spangled Banner while double-fisting a hot dog and a hamburger. It's not America the Brave that I love, but America the Beautiful; not the American government but America's intelligent, enriching culture.

It has taken me 6 years but I am ready to finally say that I am no longer resentful of America. I love my country, even if I wonder if I am actually meant to be from this country. I respect other people for their own beliefs concerning America; lord knows I have a few things that can be said about this country. But I am also going to defend it and admit, sometimes proudly depending on my mood, that I am proud to be from America the beautiful.

America, you and me, we are on good terms again. Oh, and Happy Birthday!

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