Busted Halo
feature: politics & culture
June 16th, 2003

National Pride and July 4th

As Seen from a Distance

 
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Though Americans living abroad might technically be defined as expatriates (from the Latin “banished ones”), they generally tend to think of themselves more as roaming ambassadors of national pride.

Aasalaamu aleikum, pilgrim
We normally head out with the cowboy mentality of heading off into the wild blue yonder with our brains and brawn, ready to conquer the wilderness. We arrive in our new surroundings excited to share with the locals the superiority of our culture, ready to demonstrate the genius of our ways, and expecting people to learn from us.

In short, we often arrive at our new destination ready to establish our own little piece of Americana, convinced that we will succeed just as readily and easily as we have in the States.

What’s up with these Americans?
As the months roll by, the fallacy in this attitude becomes strikingly more apparent. To our amazement, not only are people actually happy in their underdeveloped state, but they have much more to teach us than we originally expected.

In fact, locals often cite the celebration of individualism and the unbelievable waste of resources that is so integral to North American capitalism and culture as serious drawbacks.

Even as people enjoy the latest Tom Cruise flick or Britney Spears tune, people wonder how hundreds of millions of dollars can be spent on entertainment while billions are starving. As local folk share a moment with their families, they wonder how Americans can thrive without the love and support that are essential to their lives. Their minds boggle at the cold judgment

that the efficiency of working alone should trump the joy and beauty of sharing moments together with friends and colleagues.

The value compass shifts
Over time, the values that we expatriates consider most significant inevitably change. We never lose the love of our home, but our focus has shifted.

We recognize the aspects of our life in the States that we most value in their absence, yet the frenzy of activity that characterizes American culture fades into the background. A sense of romantic innocence about the U.S. dies, and we accept the harsh reality that historically our country has made tremendous mistakes.

Eventually our patriotism resides not in the American “lifestyle,” or our government’s foreign policy, but in the hope, the innovation, and the leadership that our nation attempts to personify.

Interdependence Day?
Independence Day marks a tremendous opportunity—on the Fourth of July we celebrate the accomplishments of our people and dare to dream of future plans. We imagine a world where all peoples act in symphony, acting through mutual love and concern to focus energy on solutions instead of problems.

Through our experiences in another culture, we expatriates pray that the U.S. might act in concert with the rest of the world, recognizing that incorporating the gifts of all peoples will lead to a more just society.

May this day be a true opportunity to fight for freedom, dignity, and peace throughout the world, fulfilling the dream of our country`s creation—equality for all.

 
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The Author : Dan Marschner
Dan Marschner, an Jesuit International Volunteer, writes from Arica, Chile.
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