The first time I left the United States was January 24, 2000. I lived in Nicaragua for three months and worked in a refugee camp for displaced families of Hurricane Mitch. Nicaraguans lived in plastic tents with a USAID stamp on it and had no running water or electricity. I've gone back two more times since then and have witnessed minimum progress of improving the quality of life for the poor. The Nicaraguan pride is as rich as their coffee beans; their love for their country as evident as the heat. Similarly, I spent some time in El Salvador and attended the Youth march, celebrating the life of Archbishop Oscar Romero who denounced the suffering of the poor and the militarization of the country. Mentally tagged as one of the greatest days in my life, I remember El Salvador's spirit of resistance and their live of their country.
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
I am jetlagged from my return to the USA from my two month trip to the Philippines. I've slept about 5 hours in three days and feel like it's time for dinner and need to eat something substantial. It's 5:30am. Instead, I thought I'd blog about my latest mental wrestling matches.
In my years as a social justice and human rights advocate, I have never uttered the phrase out loud: "I love my country." There are too many things I've seen to be able to say that phrase out aloud without qualifying what exactly it is that I love when there are so many things I can't stand. But, inside, I have a deep love for my country despite all the tragedy, sin, mistakes, and horrible history of slavery, war, and cowboy politics.
So many people I've met from other nations are able to say it without shame, "I love my country." As a US citizen, those words are alien to me. While I harbor the sentiment, I can't utter that phrase without being reminded of all the atrocities we've inflicted on other parts of the world. Is it possible to love the freedoms of a country but detest our actions? Is that hypocritical? Naive? Simple-minded?
In my work with other social justice advocates, they remain hostile to their citizenship and the stars and stripes. They balk at the soaring bald eagle and roll their eyes at the fireworks on the 4th of July. I remain silent, wondering how to both love and resist your citizenship.
Jennifer, a Filipina who works in a non-profit in the Philippines, shared many stories of friends who are missing, stories of students and scholars who have been murdered for their work and voice. So many of my sisters in southeast asia are fighting their government while simultaneously loving their country. Is it possible to separate the two for the United States? Admitting love for the US on non-US soil is a weighted act. The US makes its global name for itself through our political decisions and military forces. Our government makes it so difficult to be proud and in love with our citizenship.
Coming back to this country is complicated. How does one negotiate loving the freedoms and abilities as a citizen and continuing the work to raise awareness of our responsibilities to the rest of the planet?
Perhaps it is HOW I love this country that makes this duality possible. It's a deep, quiet river full of freedom, challenge, and commitment to the poor. The US is not the greatest nation in the world because that statement would require some arbitrary barometer of measuring greatness. Power, bullying, and bombs never equate to greatness.
The US is not the greatest nation, but it is the home of so many great movements that have inspired me to believe we are capable of so much more than just spitting, "I can't stand this country," and walking away from this complex and oxymoron of a land we call the United States of America. And while the US is home to some of the most brilliant writers and feminists, some of the most driven activists and humble educators I have ever encountered, I am fully aware of my limitations. I am aware that other lands are home to poetry, breathtaking art, inspiring movements of their own, and unheard and unsong heroes. The riches of other nations are rarely celebrated in the US. We're often too busy celebrating ourselves.
How do you love and resist your citizenship? How do you hold the two equal, or do you?