I kind of think I love America. Just a little. In total secrecy. Only to be repeated on this one holiday while hiding behind an American flag just as fireworks explode loud enough for anybody listening to ask, “what did you just say?”
Every Fourth of July, I get a bit of that mushy feeling in the pit of my stomach that nurses plant in every red-blooded American at the hospital, and that is then fertilized with bald eagle spit and the bits of apple pie that get stuck to a poorly-greased pan that they sneak into all of our public school lunches throughout the entirety of our childhood.
But I feel it stronger this year that I have since said childhood: which is weird. This is the first Fourth of July with Donald Trump in the white house. Without going into an enormous list of specifics beyond that, American politics, generally, look like dystopian fiction right now. Not that they were great to begin with. At a pretty young age—growing up with George Bush, the Iraq War, and the hate that permeates nearly all immigration politics fought so close to home in my border state—I never really got into the whole patriotism thing. The American Dream was always just an ironic punch line. Loving your country was only for people who drove trucks and buried bigoted hearts behind the camouflage print on their t-shirts. I can’t remember the last time I said the Pledge of Allegiance.
Angsty, in-your-face rejection of any and all things American has been an integral part of my identity for as long as I’ve had one, and just getting the fuck out has always been at the core of any plans I’ve made for adulthood. Whether it be Canada, France, Denmark, or Ireland (all of which I went through huge, obsessive phases over at one time or another while growing up bored in the suburbs), I just didn’t want to be a citizen in today’s modern Roman Empire, pillaging the entire world for energy, power, and the spread of its impeccable American-branded morals.
And I have. Gotten out, that is. I studied abroad in Denmark for a year. I just got back from teaching English in France for a year. Next year, I’m getting my masters in Ireland (still looking at you for something, Canada). But, honestly, I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned from that getting-out is that non-American doesn’t necessarily equate to good.
In fact, I’m starting to get the impression that everywhere is kind of shitty.
Canada, for as much as we prop it up to be a gleaming tundra of overly-nice, plain people, has some serious xenophobic shit of its own. Denmark, said to be the happiest place on Earth, takes the most anti-depressants in the world and, in my personal experience, has some serious alcoholism issues. Not to mention that their own xenophobic, racist political party is pretty popular. There’s a reason the word “ennui” comes from France. Workers’ rights, while important, seem to be the only thing the French will fight for. When I went to the Montpellier Women’s March (organized by ex-pats by the way), there was hardly anybody there, because, as it was explained to me on several occasions by the French, feminism isn’t important to them. The French have the second most McDonald’s in the world, and, arguably, the same level of Redneck that I find in America, but without the American acknowledgement that it’s there. They are, also, the most open with their racism that I have ever personally experienced, even if Marine LePen only won second place this past election. I’ll get to Ireland after this coming year, I’m sure. Spain seemed nice, but my current supervisor (who is black) said it was horribly discriminatory to him. Italy is terrible about refugees. England has Brexit. Etc. Etc. Etc. Americans disillusioned with America always seem to look to our European neighbors as some kind of answer because, what? It’s old and beautiful and a nice place to live if you have don’t have to deal with the same discriminations that exist in the US?
I’ve focused on Canada and Europe here just because it seems pretty common for masochistic Americans to think of the other side of the pond as “the answer,” and because it’s what I personally know, but I’m sure I could find similar examples from every continent (those researchers over in Antarctica particularly). Nowhere is perfect. People aren’t perfect. We’re into ourselves and our groups and however we want to draw the maps to reflect our “us’s”.
I don’t mean to point out all the problems with one continent and juxtapose it with a positive view of America to say that we’re the best and to revert to some weird nationalistic American exceptionalism. But, right now, coming back from Europe to my old American “us”—systemic and political worlds aside—I’m realizing that I’m pretty fucking into this blob on a map despite a lifetime of rejecting any of its positive attributes. I’m part of a community of people dedicated to protecting the environment and building each other up through the process with my current job. It’s funded by the American government which, at least for the moment, protects huge national and state parks that are more beautiful than anything in Europe. I’m working with people who understand and even enjoy working their asses off. Americans work so fucking hard and, yes, probably too much, but this respect for good work is, I think, special and unique and beautiful. Back in France, everything was so fucking white and sexist (teachers commenting on my ass when I walked through doors, for example) and xenophobic and racist and gender normative (there is no non-binary pronoun in the French language, and nobody is even talking about trans-rights in France to my knowledge). In my experience in America, if somebody in privilege does or says something offensive, they are at least going to get called out and made uncomfortable with the normativity that society usually lets them take for granted. America, while controlled by money and the fear of the few in power, is rife with diversity on a personal, daily level, and I, at least, would prefer a world where those in power act out of fear rather than heedless, unchallenged comfort in what affords them that place.
Also, just as a side note, Jesus, Americans are funny. I was genuinely starting to worry this past year that I’d lost my ability to laugh. Like, really laugh, something that has always been a defining characteristic for me. This past weekend, though, I went to my old college town and saw a few old friends; I laughed so much so constantly that I didn’t think my eyes would ever dry or my stomach ever stop hurting. The youth that I work with often ask me if I’ve ever heard jokes before, because I just laugh at all of them.
I love our protest. I love our art. I love our literature. I love our love.
The world is an agglomeration of fucked-up systems and problematic cultures. Everywhere is awful. And, looking at what the US in capital letters is up to these days, all I know is that I have to come back here. I have to love. I have to do everything in my power to rebel against what I’ve always known I hated to make it reflect the America that I’m finding out I do love.
Happy Fourth of July. Who’s up for stealing the Declaration of Independence?