My last post was about why travel matters, so this post is dedicated to why home, specifically the US, matters. Somewhere along my travels, I started to develop a deep love and appreciation for the states. Maybe it’s because I spent so much time talking to people everywhere in the world about this country, our electoral system, our constitution, government, anything and everything related to the USA. It made me look at it all and ask and think about it in ways I never had before and I suddenly never felt more connected to home and this country. And I realize now how much I believe in it and love it enough to think that it’s worth fighting for. And that is why I’m staying.
OK I get it and I’ll admit that the thought crossed my mind ~ maybe even a few times Tuesday night. Canada does have a commendable immigration and multicultural policy; I seriously love Justin Trudeau; Vancouver is one of my favorite cities in the world; and how many times did people already ask if I was from there, eh? Yes, Canada is wonderful and I admire it but then I started to examine my motivations and thought about what I had seen while traveling around the world.
Venezuela: didn’t go because it was so unstable last October and has only gotten worse. Burma/Myanmar: had such amazing conversations about change and hope with locals and discussed their and our elections. Turkey: just breaks my heart with the suppression of the opposition going on there. Palestine/Israel: Us vs them mentality and the difficult, gut wrenching talks that spawned. Europe: backlash against immigration/rise of ultra right parties. So neither the US nor the world is perfect and that reality is okay. In fact, that makes me think about how I’m an ardent supporter of this grand experiment we are still in the midst of here in this country. I think about Abraham Lincoln and his appeal for the last, best hope in 1862 and how that still holds true today for this large scale, multicultural democratic republic. We’ve shown that votes matter, elections count, opposition can exist ~ even flourish, freedoms of speech, religion, assembly are protected, how the Constitution is this incredible living document, how even our Founding fathers differed on the best way forward but learned to compromise. We have even made it through a civil war. So yes, we can make it work but it can be messy and complicated along the way.
We should stop demonizing the candidates as I’m pretty sure that Hillary is not the devil and that Trump is not Hitler. We need to, at the minimum, stop the vitriol aimed at the other side. Democrats look at disgust at Republicans painting them as racists bigots and Republicans look across the aisle and see people who only want government to provide for them. We’re caricatures or worse, not even human to one another and history has shown that very bad and dangerous things happen with this ‘us vs them’ mentality.
And if we move from this country, what does that say about us? That we weren’t open to trying to understand one another? That somehow this fear (that is palpable on both sides) rules us and compels us to leave? Even though we live in a place where, if we wanted, change is possible. Stop having it be that “I’m right so that means you have to be wrong” attitude and adopt a “I want to understand the other side and see if we share common ground”. Think about it in this way, the attitudes around gay marriage were changed in such a short amount of time because people started getting to know gay people in their everyday lives. When we do these simple acts of interaction and dialogue with “the other”, “they” become humanized and stop being so scary. And somehow we recognize that we are all simply flawed creatures doing the best we know how to and can. And maybe even aim to do better.
So you know how close I am to my family and I became an aunt for the fourth time on Monday night. I think about the message that I would be sending to my nieces, nephews, and cousins. That if we don’t like the outcome, it’s okay to be sore losers and call the other side names. That when things don’t go our way and get tough, that we bail. Democracy is hard work but there’s beauty in that for me. I love what I heard on NPR’s TED Radio hour about it: that we are coauthors and cocreators with coresponsibility (here’s the link to the full episode).
But mainly when I think about moving, I reflect on my own family history. My maternal grandfather was imprisoned by the communists in Vietnam the year that my mother was born and they would not see each other again until 1993 when he came to the United States. He was jailed for 21 years because he refused to capitulate and was released because it was deemed that he was an old man and no longer a threat. And I think about how my parents didn’t have a choice about their leaving. My father worked for the South Vietnamese government and was associated with Americans and it would have been imprisonment or death if they had stayed. Two of my father’s younger brothers were visiting my parents at the time so four lives were abruptly changed on the night of April 29, 1975 when they left. The next day, Saigon fell. Oh and my mom was pregnant and had my older sister on the island of Guam in July.
So I am American purely by luck. My parents didn’t know where they would end up and thought, maybe hoped for the proximity of, the Philippines or Australia. But they ended up in Colorado on October 8, 1975. I think about my life and what would have been if they stayed in Vietnam ~ would I have even been at all? And I wonder if I would still have become an outgoing, determined, optimistic woman there?
But that’s not how my story turned out and I’m here. I think there’s lot of room for improvement but there’s also many things that make this country pretty wonderful. I am grateful to have my blue passport and that I can leave and travel almost without restriction (or very little especially when compared to many other countries’ citizens). In a lot of ways, I can be the maker of my own destiny here. I don’t think that the US is the greatest country but I don’t need it to be. I want it to be a great country ~ for all. And I want to help build that country, I want to have the dialogue, I want to be part of something greater than myself and be an informed global citizen that happens to reside in the USA.
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Time for you to come to Philadelphia and let us share with you how the country came about!