Thursday, September 11, 2008

What I Appreciate About the USA

When I left the states for South America in 2005, I was definitely not a patriotic person. I mean, 200 years of slavery, a hundred years of legal segregation, and another forty of trigger-happy police incursions and a societal fear of black men do not exactly compel me to sing "God Bless America." Still, living abroad has instilled in me what I'd call a passive sense of nationalism, manifested as a nostalgia for certain uniquely American cultural attributes that can't be found anywhere else. The United States is absolutely not "the best country in the world." No place is. But the US definitely has a lot of cool stuff going for it. This is my list of ten things I appreciate about the States:

10) Magazines. I mean, damn, one whole wall at Barnes & Noble (or Books-A-Million) is dedicated to the glossy, shiny alternate universe of magazines. There's one for every geek boner you could imagine, from crocheting to dirt biking to porn. And besides the staples of every black household (Ebony, Essence, and the ubiquitous Jet), I get to see gorgeous people of color smiling back at me from the covers of Vanity Fair and Men's Health and Time as if we've actually overcome!

9) Healthy Foods. Here in Colombia, a small, 10-slice pack of turkey breast costs $6. At Winn-Dixie, a pound of sliced turkey breast costs $4. Tropical and temperate fruits. Peanut butter. Protein bars and granola bars and low-carb bars and cereal bars. Yeah, lots of it might be processed and/or preserved, but dammit...we grow tall and big and strong in the USA!

8) Concerts. Mavis Staples. Kid Sister. Seu Jorge. Bebel Gilberto. Afrika Bambaataa. Julieta Vanegas. Dave Hollister. Santogold. Crosby, Stills & Nash. Los Lonely Boys. Black Dice. Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens. All free this summer in New York. That's just one venue in one city for one season.

7) American Cinema. Citizen Kane. Gone With the Wind. Imitation of Life. All About Eve. Blazing Saddles. Young Frankenstein. The Wiz. Jo-Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling. Jungle Fever. New Jack City. Juice. Lean On Me. Krush Groove. Love Jones. Eve's Bayou. I Like It Like That. Casino. Heat. The Shawshank Redemption. American Beauty. Fargo. Requiem for a Dream. Any Given Sunday. A Christmas Story. The Hours. Bring It On (just playin'). And absolutely everything in between. (I couldn't even begin to wrap my mind around a "comprehensive" list.)

6) Landscapes. The amber waves of grain on the Great Plains. Purple mountain majesties of the Rockies. The rocky cliffs of California. The infinite flatness of the Everglades. Volcanoes and pine forests and glaciers and beaches with black and white and beige and coral sands. America is beautiful.

5) Black American and Southern culture. Of course, these often overlap. Grits and eggs and grits and bacon and grits and fish and grits and corned beef hash and grits and fried bologna and cornbread and collard greens and barbecue and boiled crabs (with potatoes and corn and Roger Wood sausages) and, yes, chitlins and music at parties and games of spades and tonk (or "tunk") and drawls and twangs and shit-talkin and rankin' on somebody's mama til somebody gets mad and breakin out movie lines like "You ain't got-ta lie, Craig!" and breakin out old dances like the Reebok and the Cabbage Patch and the Running Man and the Roger Rabbit (and the Squirrel and the Tawlet Bowl and the Woop and the Tootsie Roll) and HBCU football games and step shows and dropped r's (pahk the cah, nah!) and words like chuch and mm-hmm and well! and my-my-my and Jesus Lawd and the odd-count grunt that generations of black women have perfected when receiving bad/interesting/surprising news: mmm. Mmm-mmm-mmm. Mmm-mmm-mmm-mmm-mmm. Thems my peoples.

4) Diversity. There is no other country on Earth with more than two truly international cities. There's always been the gateways - New York, LA, Miami, San Fran. The capital - Washington. The classics - Philly and Boston. The magnet - Chicago. But now, even bastions of regionalized Americana are noticeably microcosmic - Atlanta, Seattle, Dallas, Houston. On any given weekend, you can leave your Mandarin Chinese class to fill-up on some pad Thai before hitting a salsa spot and then an afterparty with a Brazilian DJ. Or you could just go straight to Magic City right after that pad Thai.

3) Comparative success of Black Americans. Nowhere else in the hemisphere do the descendants of African slaves have as many opportunities to develop socioeconomically than in the US, in spite of foolishness from both mainstream society (of which we're less than 14% of the population) and amongst ourselves. Black immigrants from the Caribbean might do well in Canada, but not too many of them do that well back in their home countries. Colombia's cool and I love Brazil, but we still got a long way to go in those places, too, which is disheartening since half of Brazil's 200 million people are of African descent, as well as 40% of Colombia's. And there are no Latin American Obamas, Oprahs, Colins, Condis, Kenneth Chenaults, or Richard Parsonses. In many places, like where I live, they still Driving Miss Daisy.

2) Freedom of speech and political discourse. "BUCK FUSH!" There, I said it.
Try saying "Puck Futin," "Chuck Favez," "Ruck Ufibe," or "Cuck Fastro" in their respective countries, and thas yo ass.

1) English. I love languages, especially those of the Romance variety (Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian son mis favoritos). Still, much useful information about the world in which we live is only available in the home language of the country that produces that information, and in English. I haven't seen any Spanish-language publication or broadcast news source that gives as complete coverage to global issues as the Economist. If I get lost at the airport in Dapango, Togo, I guarantee you somebody's gon speak a lil English. It's the lingua franca of the new millenium, y'all, and I'm glad I got to learn it growing up so I wouldn't have to be bothered with learning its ridiculous spelling and pronunciation system as an adult.

What do my fellow expats appreciate about the States?

(Very specific honorable mentions: Marshalls, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and driving on a freeway at dusk with some hot lounge or chill house setting the tempo)

12 comments:

Darius T. Williams said...

I love sooo many things about America. Like for real - there's way too much to mention.

But I'm with you on grits - lol - I love them. I'm going to be doing a shrimp and grits dish on my food blog - www.everydaycookin.blogspot.com

Duncan said...

Great article, as an Irishman I’m scared sh*tless by American immigration and as result only travel to the US when absolutely necessary.
However, it’s incredible how much I owe to American culture, music, movies, tv (thank you Sesame St & HBO), art, job, burgers…etc
Looking forward to the day that a person arriving off a flight in O’Hare can’t be locked up indefinitely without charge. The world is waiting America, please meet us half way, it’ll be great to get reacquainted.

kwerekwere said...

i started writing a response and couldn't stop. it ended up being so long that i just made it a post in my blog. when you get a moment, check it out. i didn't even say half of what i could have said. i've got this love-hate relationship with america.

Kevin said...

And fishbowl sized martinis.

And cranberry juice. They make Cosmopolitans in Sao Paulo with cherry juice. *shiver*

Harvey said...

Hey, diversity, what about Brazil? never been there, but I would bet that they have more than 2 truely diverse cities.

When I was in Japan I missed big apartments, wide open-spaces where you can lie on the grass, I missed the diversity (of opinion as well as people)... I can't say I missed the food though!

Felicia said...

Sounds like you may be thinking about moving back to the States? Or would you try to really settle in another country? I've lived in 5 years in Paris, France, 4 years in Sweden and now one year in Seoul, South Korea. I'm thinking of having the best of both worlds. No, I WILL have the best of both worlds as I base myself in the U.S. while still continuing to work abroad and travel internationally, but I must admit, I love the ease of living in the States, no need for work permits, renewing visas, etc. Oy vey!

Felicia said...

My favorite thing about the U.S. is that the only limit is the limit we set upon ourselves.
2. The open road
3. Large apartments, lofts, etc.
4. Food from all over the world!
5. My beautiful Virginia (New Yorkers please come to my state in peace please. We like it peaceful in Virginia)
6. The blood, sweat and tears of my people are in the very soil that I walk on and I hope that I make them proud.

Miki said...

I love your list so much! I agree so much about film/movies as well. Japanese cinema and TV makes me want to pull out all of my hair!

Another thing I do miss about America is the fact that you can blend in just a little bit more. Here in Japan it's impossible! But I guess that comes with the territory of being an ex pat!

I look forward to reading more of your blog and feel free to stop by mine again! :)

Jean Racine said...

Been out of the States for clsoe to 15 years now. Agree with some of what you say, but strongly disagree with others. Take the two cities point: imagine the EU as one country and you end up with dozens of truly interesting and diverse international cities.

Fly Brother said...

Darious - I need to stop by your spot and catch up. I also need to ask my moms to send me a box of Jiffy cornbread mix in the next care package.

Duncan - Thanks for commenting. American law enforcement in general scares the crap outta me, and immigration is no exception. I'm often "randomly" searched returning from Latin America, depending on my attire. I hope after this election our country will re-acquaint itself with the world.

Kwere - Glad to know my post inspires others...long ones, too!

Kevin - LOL @ the wack cosmos. But you didn't move to Brazil for the cocktails, didya? ;-)

Harvey - There are other large cities in Brazil, but they don't have the same type of international cultural draw as the biggies SP and Rio. Salvador, for example, is a monumental paean to Brazilian culture that should not be missed. The historical cultural melange that is Brazil throbs through the air in that city, but it's still quintessentially Brazilian and nothing more, as are the other large cities in the country.

Felicia - You will be receiving an email about that shortly. By the way, other than the District itself, my favorite part of the DC area is the Virginia suburbs.

Miki - Thanks for commenting! I will certainly be a repeat visitor.

Jean - Many thanks for your comment. I would never really compare the EU culturally with the US. Other than the 50 states acting somewhat economically like little independent countries, the fact that one main language is spoken and that the country grew as one political entity after independence, to me, interferes the idea that it can be compared with Europe and its myriad languages and histories. Also, many (not all, of course) of the super-cosmopolitan cities in Europe are national capitals, and in some instances, former imperial capitals (London, Paris, Madrid) and therefore serve as magnets for the cultures they came in contact with as colonizers. Considering the USA's relatively short-lived imperial existence, I still find it remarkable that the country has consistently served as a draw for other cultures and I'm glad that one of the benefits of this migration is an array of multicultural cities within one continent-spanning country. Again, I thank you for reading and appreciate comments from my fellow expats.

Kevin said...

hehe no i just moved here for the tails.

Soldier said...

LMAO @ "Bring it on "

that's all i have to say

P.S : Canada has more than 2 truly international cities : Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal... ha ! But yes i got ur point about diversity.