In many ways, my perspective will never be commonplace. I have been a minority my entire life. The only lens I have to see life like everyone else is right and wrong. These days even that lens is blurry. But I will attempt to give you a glimpse of my cultural exchanges and the perception of America(ns) I have encountered.
Right now everyone around the globe seems to be a little frightened by terrorism, whatever that may be. My America is scarred, battered and filled with scorn. Knowing what is right and choosing what is right is difficult. Doing the right thing often brings criticism. “Land of the free, home of the brave” almost sounds like a joke.
There is no way to truly quantify where the dissent in the perception of our country started. You can say it was the civil rights movement, mass shootings, or engaging in war in the Middle East, but somewhere along the road the American dream has taken a steep curve. Don’t get me wrong, capitalism will always be popular, but the American dream was about building something for families.
I’ve been privileged enough to engross myself in several different cultures, something I truly enjoy doing. Before these extensive cultural experiences, my perception of my beloved country was the promised land. Surely everyone wanted to live in America. You could build your own success story! But each country and culture I landed in lent a different view.
A Demographic Breakdown
Most perspectives correlate to different age groups. The younger and more educated the audience, I found the less likely they are to be in favor of living in America forever, but they are open to visiting. While in Scandinavia, I was able to visit a school and share my experiences with 7th graders and 9th graders. They were studying the civil rights movement and gun violence in America. I was expecting a lot of questions regarding which city they should visit first, but more of the questions had to deal with why there is not more protection for our students in school. I’m sure we won’t get many students from that group studying abroad.
In India, this age group is more consumed with the allure of America and not the facts. The more affluent the students here in India, the more likely they have immediate family living or working in America, resulting in it being less desirable to live or even visit.
In the young adults age bracket, many have no interest in building a life in America, even if they have visited several times or attended school in the States. Currently, the benefits of living in Scandinavia and India outweigh setting up shop somewhere else. Culturally speaking for this particular set of young adults, living or working in America is not in the top three options for life or career paths. It is quite common for Indian young adults to plan to study in the US, but most will in turn come back to occupy good paying tech jobs in India.
The parents in the countries I have visited have completely lost interest in settling in America. Parents want their children to experience the abundance of opportunity our country provides, but in limited doses. Those who can afford for their children to study abroad encourage it, but they also build their child’s livelihood in their home country. There is always a return ticket.
The point of this post is not about whether we need more foreigners coming to our country or not, but to point out the poor perception of America (and Americans) limits the growth and security of it’s citizens. I mean look at how we treat people from the Middle East, we are setting up the same scenario for us. Quite frankly, America is not the first stop or choice for refugees and immigrants. There are many other countries (i.e. Germany, Sweden, Canada) that have excellent programs for immigrants and refugees. The benefits are considerably better for their extended family members as well, which are a priority.
Quite frankly, America is not the first stop or choice for refugees and immigrants.
As Americans, we pride ourselves in our freedoms which in turn has allowed several people groups to feel walked over. Being able to freely express ourselves, we have somehow managed to insult everyone around us. I’m not even sure we can sing “I’m proud to be an American” in schools anymore. We need what I will call ‘cultural justification’. Basically, we need to accept that this country has always been a melting pot of cultures, and there will never be a blanketed answer for how we treat it’s citizens. Every cultural group (read also as religion) has the right to live out their culture.
Cultural justification is something I think the country of India thrives in. While India has its fair share of racism (aka caste system), the thriving cities of the country are able to operate in a socio-economic manner that creates a livable [not ideal, but livable] experience for everyone. This could be attributed to Hinduism’s teachings of tolerance and acceptance, because rarely have I seen opposition to someone’s beliefs or religion. Many states in India celebrate their own holidays and school schedules are framed around prayer times for Muslims here in Hyderabad.
There is so much stigma surrounding Muslims in the States. I’ve been asked several times how the people here in India feel about Muslims. Well, just to educate you we are outnumbered by Muslims here in Hyderabad. It is a non-issue. So many stories have surfaced in defense of the ‘majority’ of Muslims, it has brought to my attention that the Americas and Europe are the only places on earth where 1 out of 4 people are not Islamic. Everyone else seems to coexist with Muslims just fine…
I don’t think there is a problem with letting our culture define us. I categorize myself culturally as American because I’m about as American as it gets, I fit all the stereotypes. When I travel I am rarely identified as an American (unless I speak first). I sometimes play this to my advantage, but when I reveal my nationality most of the time I receive the person’s opinion of my country. That’s why this post is legitimate. I hear opinions about my country every day whether I want to or not. Some people are smart enough not to make generalizations, but most’s perceptions are their reality.
Right now there seems to be no way to correct foreigner’s empathizing for America’s upheaval of issues. We need an internal scope to create policy that is not individualistic in nature but culturalistic. America has become so selfishly capitalistic that we feel like every law needs to be about ‘my economic empowerment’. Sure there’s no easy answer, but if we ever expect to become global leaders in any facet we will have to rededicate ourselves to developing the security and sanctity of family. That’s what the American Dream is about.
Truthfully, it doesn’t matter what is said about us if we never step out of our country, but that is not the world we are living in. Capitalism has the best of us, and our growing pains require us to step up and make sure the true value of our nation is not lost.