The United States: My Country, Right And Wrong

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

U.S. President Barack Obama

Late on Sunday – actually come to think of it, it was already Monday as it was well-passed 2 a.m. – I decided to watch a movie when perhaps a wiser decision would have been to close my eyes and go to sleep. I’ve been staying up late far too much lately, and it hasn’t been doing my rugged good looks any good. <—- humor.

I was already in bed and just about to shut down my laptop and indeed get some rest, but a web page caught my bleary eyes. It was a web page that purports to offer free movies streamed over the Internet. That fact alone was not what really grabbed my attention. What grabbed me gently by the collar was one particular movie featured on the main page – “The Help“.  A succinct description of “The Help” from Internet Movie Database [IMDb]:

An aspiring author during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s decides to write a book detailing the African-American maid’s point of view on the white families for which they work, and the hardships they go through on a daily basis.

I had heard so much about “The Help” and had been wanting to see it, but such a movie isn’t easy to find in uninitiated Chile, especially in mining town Calama where I live. I thought if I’m lucky, I would be able to see it in larger, more cosmopolitan Santiago, Chile’s sprawling capital. Or in some other more refined South American city. But here it was on this Internet site, and so I said to myself, okay, I’m game, let’s see if this “free movies” site is legitimate.

 After just a click to install an application to view the movie and another click to launch it, lo and behold, the movie started! Well, I wasn’t about to let this golden  opportunity slip by. Sleepy or not,  2 a.m. or 4 a.m., it was movie-watching time!

To be sure, “The Help” is about a particularly troubling period in the history of the United States. It’s about racism and the ugliness of post-slavery segregation and its impact on a particular group of  women – blacks who worked as maids and who took care of  white children when their mothers were too busy playing bridge and gossiping at tea parties, and those white women who behaved as if they owned their maids. These maids, as were all blacks at the time, in which laws were enacted to keep them subservient to whites, were treated worst than dirt. And that’s putting it nicely.

In the United States, mostly in the southern part of the country, blacks were kept as slaves and treated as property. This was the legacy from which African-Americans had risen. This was the struggle they’ve had to endure, even to this day, though there’s no denying much has changed for the better. Heck, we even have an African-American president! Barack Obama’s election stands as a testament to that change, though again, it has also brought to the forefront some pervasive racist attitudes.

In the 10 months I’ve been traveling, I have heard a lot of negative things about the United States. I have met dozens of individuals who have nothing good to say about the United States and its people. I even met some couchsurfers in Medellin, Colombia, who told me when they joined, they as a couple had decided they would not host any Americans. They opened their home to me on the recommendation of a mutual friend from Finland. In the end, they couldn’t have been happier with me, we shared lots of good times and we even became friends. In fact, they didn’t want me to leave!

In Latin America, specifically in South America, people have not exactly been shy about telling me how much they detest the United States. I am sure I will continue to hear anti-American sentiments as I continue my journey around the world. I’ve heard it time and time again. I last heard it two weeks ago in Salta, Argentina, from a woman who gave no reason for her hatred of the United States, but I’m sure if I had asked she would have gladly given me plenty of reasons. Just like her, most of these U.S.-haters have never been to the United States. What they know, they know from television and other media. I knew when I started this journey that I would encounter a fair share of U.S.-haters. But I had long decided that I would not play the role of defending my country or engaging in debate. That I would simply listen and generally that is exactly what I do. Of course, I don’t let obvious misinformation go unchallenged, but I’m by no means on some U.S  cheerleading squad traveling the globe to debate every activist or leftist that comes along. Let people have their opinion. If they ask a question, glad to answer. If they want debate, I’m not their man.

And yet, sometimes a good fight is irresistible.

In Ecuador, I could not help but to take on a very pro-Hugo Chavez leftist Ecuadorian man who didn’t see the irony in the fact he was standing on a bridge built with aid money from the United States, and criticizing the United States as the most evil country in the world. He had nothing good to say about the United States as we stood on that bridge looking at roiling river waters below. The bridge had a plaque affixed to it. It praised the good graces of the United States Agency for International Development – USAID – but the money had obviously come from U.S. taxpayers, some of whom live in cities and towns with decaying bridges. I pointed out to him that his town had a very nice bridge while there are places in the United States with bridges with questionable safety. I first got a blank stare from him, as if puzzled why that is, and then this: “Oh, well, how much did this bridge cost the United States to build? A million? Two million? Maybe $3 million? Whatever amount it was, it’s nothing for the United States! Just a drop in the bucket considering the United States’ economic resources.”

It was at that point I decided there is absolutely no point in trying to convince people when their minds are made up. After all, did he know what that bridge meant to the people of his town? To Ecuador? Perhaps even to its economic growth? Did he stop to think what that “drop in the bucket” could do for a kid in a struggling school in the United States? Had he even considered that the United States sends millions in economic aid to Ecuador and billions more around the world? Can a person be so closed-minded and ungrateful?

After watching “The Help”, I stayed up a bit later thinking about all this. I thought I of all people have every right to denounce the United States, for the history of my people in the United States hasn’t exactly been a parade. At one time in her life, my mother was “the help”. But she managed to advance her education and get a better job in the medical field. That’s the beauty of the United States. I recognize that the United States is not all evil and no good. Sure, even Americans would admit there are some things we are not proud of, but point me to the nation with no scars in its past. We live and we hopefully learn.

Missteps and all, I love the United States. I, of course, don’t  support everything my government does, only a non-thinking fool does that. But as I travel, I’ve also seen the goodness of the United States, such as in the faces of  Peace Corps volunteers in Peru, placing on hold their own lives to help some struggling village far from home. I see it in the volunteers working with a myriad of volunteer organizations around the world. I see it each time there’s a natural disaster and the United States is the first to answer the call for help.

While I don’t intend to be a cheerleader for my country, I will sing its praises if asked. This, despite the history of blacks in the United States. I certainly have cause to be critical of the United States, just freshly having been reminded of the struggles of “the help”, but the United States is much more than a string of negatives. Then, on my journey, I intend to build bridges.

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One thought on “The United States: My Country, Right And Wrong

  1. I’ve been there. In Europe and India, people talking about things they don’t know. No point in arguing with them. I also find it ironic when immigrants in the US talk about how horrible the States are.


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