Like a Frog inside a Well
America is so internationally known yet so blind of what’s going on in the world
America has people of all colors and sizes from all over the world as its citizens. That way, they forgot that there’s such a thing as American culture. When we say culture, it’s not the just the ancient traditions brought by each multiple ancestors like German, Ghanaian, Indian, Irish, Korean, Nigerian, etc. Culture is also about what the society has evolved into. It’s the daily practices, attitude and perception about each other as a human as well as a nation, connected to geographical situations like Mid West, Southern, New Yorker, Southern Californian, etc.
Such culture is the biggest filter Americans use in seeing humans. You think the brown person from another corner of the world is like a typical brown American person. You think the white person from Netherlands is supposed to behave like a white American. And this problem cannot be solved by the political correctness of trying to protect certain identities from being discussed.
One day I was in a cultural educational event. The atmosphere was friendly, and the teacher was asking us to introduce our names and where we were from. I was sure the teacher meant to ask about residence, home, or growing up. I answered with a country’s name because it’s my residence (I was just a visitor in USA). Apparently, my answer made certain people awkward. Someone tried to explain “I don’t feel like I’m from where I was born”. The teacher discontinued the introduction session because it went cold instead of warm.
On another occasion, I remember someone asked me, “I’m sorry if it’s a personal question, but I heard you’re from Indonesia or Malaysia?” I explained to her with ease, but wondered why. It seemed like people who weren’t born in the USA are trying to hide where they’re from?
There seems to be a political correctness that you’re not supposed to ask or tell where you’re from, because everyone is American. That’s true because many (non-white) people have tried so hard to embrace their new country and not socially accepted because of their appearance or English accent. The USA is an immigrant country. However, this particular cultural filter makes it difficult for Americans to acknowledge that in fact there are way more than 350 million people on earth that don’t recognize USA as their nationality.
So I went cheerfully to this Native American person, saying “This is the first time I’m meeting a Native American”. It’s a normal thing to say outside USA, as I would say, “You’re the second Iranian person I’ve ever met!” And usually the conversations moved toward interesting cultural stories. That “native american” person apparently didn’t like me saying that. She replied, “Well, I’m human, like everyone else.”
I responded, “I love to talk about cultural traditions and history, and usually that’s what I talk to people I met.” I also added that there’s an ancient monument near where I was born that looks similar to an ancient monument in Mexico — seems like this part of Asia and that part of America shared a similar culture in the past. She wasn’t interested in more of that.
I dislike such situations, where prejudice clouds openness in meeting new people. You don’t know who that person is, and you already claimed to know the intention behind what the person says. I understood that an American person claiming it’s the first time they meet a native is politically incorrect. It’s like you don’t make any effort to meet diverse people from your own land.
Other than the 350 million of you…
There are 7 billion people out there who may not know about Hollywood entertainment.
There are 7 billion people out there who may not know the name of the current president of the USA.
There are 7 billion people out there who may not know that Americans speak English, let alone speak English themselves.
There are 7 billion people out there who may not know that Americans are not the land of the whites (a.k.a. people with European ancestry).
There are 7 billion people out there who may not get a chance to visit the USA, let alone migrating to the USA for economic reasons, let alone trying to be American to proudly call the land their land.
There are 7 billion people out there who use their culture and their economic and educational power to improve their lands without American money. You forgot the philantropists from Europe and Asia.
There are just too many humans out there who don’t meet the stereotypes of a black, brown, yellow, white people of the USA. They don’t know about your domestic problems like gun violence, gender discrimination, the foster care system, the tension with the indigenous population, the ugly history of black people, the laissez-faire capitalism. The USA from outside looks like a perfect country with the powerful military, the educational opportunities, and the rich economy. That’s what makes people come to find a better life in the USA.
If you meet some people from outside USA who are not residents, let alone not interested in migrating to USA, let them be. It’s more appreciated if you can share your daily struggle as an American instead of assuming they already know your struggle. Even better, you can ask their daily struggle because you may hear inspiring stories on how different life is out there!
I’ve just come to agree with the stories by American people who have left and now live in Europe (plenty in Youtube). The only thing that the USA does right is the pop culture. You have entertained the world for many years! I will always be thankful of my Disney childhood.
Dear Americans, please try investigating the world map and start being curious about what the other 7 billion people are doing.