And why I’m still here
For a long time, I dreamed of living in America. But recently, it’s been increasingly hard to remember why. Why did I come here, to a country so divided that it can’t process election results without the Capitol being attacked or protest for equality without forming conspiracy theories? A country that can’t provide its citizens healthcare during a global pandemic, a country where people go into debt because they can’t afford a house, medical bills, or an education? Is there anything left of the dream I once had about living here?
Many of my friends and family wonder why I don’t just go home. And honestly, after January 6th, the desire to leave this madhouse was stronger than ever. Conspiracy theories here and there, people fighting each other despite being brothers and sisters of the same country. The US seems to be sinking economically, humanely, politically and above all, morally. It’s like watching a plane crash happen in slow motion. A plane that has been flying too low for years.
Before booking a ticket back home though, I took some time to reflect on why I came here in the first place. For a moment I pushed aside the bad and remembered the good. What gave me that gut feeling ten years ago when visiting with my mom that I just have to live here?
When I was too young to understand anything about politics, economics, or anything of that sort, what I saw in this country was opportunity, drive, and creativity. Some of the most loving, kind, and generous people I have met in my life are American. Some of the most passionate, hard-working, and relentless people I have met in my life are American. So are the people with limitless vision, hope, and ambition for their dream. And so are the people who care about equality and human rights more than anything. I have no idea, and I don’t care, which of them are republican or democrat.
The US is one of the most diverse nations in the world. Maybe that’s why I, as a non-citizen, felt like I belong here despite being a citizen of another country. I felt like this is the place for me to do what I want without limitations or discrimination. This is the place where no one will look at me like a weirdo for trying to make something of myself. This is a place that welcomes everyone who dreams of a better, or a different, life.
The reason I came here, was that I thought this is a country that thrives off of diversity and recognizes its advantages.
Although that changed already when Trump was elected president after campaigning against immigration, it wasn’t until June of 2020 that I felt really unwelcome in this country. In June, Trump signed a proclamation that stated: “under the extraordinary circumstances of the economic contraction resulting from the COVID-19 outbreak, certain nonimmigrant visa programs authorizing such employment pose an unusual threat to the employment of2 American workers.” My German friend and fellow Journalism student Natascha Wittman put it perfectly in this article, and I’ll use her words here: as a Finn in Los Angeles, I never thought I could be a risk just by wanting to live abroad. I never thought I could be a threat that Americans needed protection from.
Since Trump’s election, the US has been constantly in the spotlight for its inability to solve issues and for its divided politics. Trump managed to divide a country and turn its citizens against each other. However, underlying issues like systematic racism, mistrust, and greed existed way before him. I have hope that with a leader who focuses more on unity and less on calling people names on Twitter, the country can start to build up again. But although a leader possesses great power, one person alone cannot change a nation.
Although my home country Finland surely has problems of its own, something I wish America would learn from it is trust.
Finland is built on trust; trust in each other, trust in the government. Surveys show that Finland has strong trust in other people and institutions, for example, the parliament, the government, the authorities, the judiciary and the media. We trust that our tax money will be used for the greater good, not just for something that will benefit us personally but our neighbours as well. We trust that helping those who have less than us will eventually be in the interest of our nation. We trust that education is the greatest investment: informed, educated individuals make better decisions for our country as a whole.
Societies with low trust are difficult to build. In a society of mistrust, lies and conspiracy thrive, tax morale is low, and helping the weaker is left to voluntary charity. The nation becomes divided, and the perception of society and its desirable development is fragmented. Everyone is building their own future, their own country, instead of building a unified one where everyone can prevail.
Sometimes I feel that in the US, no one trusts one another. Everybody thinks that someone is out to get them. Whatever choice is being made, somebody thinks it is a conspiracy to take away from them personally. Even something like public healthcare or free education is a debate, although in most western countries these are a given.
Will the country be able to unify itself if individuals are willing to put country before party? What would happen if individuals saw each other as Americans, not only Republicans or Democrats?
The US is extremely influential, perhaps the most influential country in the world and therefore possesses limitless potential to institute change for the better. The US could be an example for the whole world on issues like climate change and human rights. Right now, it’s a laughing stock. People watch the news and shake their heads as conspiracy crazed “patriots” storm the capitol. After events like this, school bombings, and George Floyd, it’s certainly easy to feel hopeless.
What I have noticed, however, is that despite how bad things are and how much we seem to hate each other in the virtual world, I still see kindness, humility, and perseverance every day. Most Americans I have met believe in good, whether they are Republican or Democrat.
The media feeds into the radicalization of both sides. It never encourages us to be empathetic or to listen and understand the other side. It only feeds fire to the flame, encourages hate and tribalism. It has never been so easy to stir controversy and be misinformed by lies. Media literacy is perhaps the most important skill of every citizen in the modern world. The ability to understand what is true and what is false has never been so crucial. Perhaps the only hope for America is properly funded, neutral-agenda, fact-based education.
I never thought of this country as a perfect place, far from it. But I still think of it as a place for opportunity. And right now, the opportunity is change. Unity is a choice. Trust is a choice.