Hi friends. It has been quite some time since I’ve written and as you can imagine a lot has happened. Just about a month ago I turned 23, and a week ago I reached my one-year anniversary of living here in Córdoba. As my birthday approached, I realized that I spent my 22nd year in 6 different countries:
1. The USA, of course.
2. Argentina (Córdoba, Buenos Aires, Jujuy).
3. Uruguay (Colonia) – very briefly
4. Perú (Cusco, trek to Machu Picchu)
5. México (Chiapas, Quintana Roo)
6. And Guatemala (Tikal, Flores, Antigua Guatemala)
And I even got to experience the long-awaited joy of merging two worlds that are very dear to me when my family finally came to visit me in August:
Needless to say, it’s been quite a year. I do not by any means doubt or regret my decision to return to South America. Throughout my journey here, I have constantly encountered generous, joyful, open, and kind people and I have never felt animosity towards myself as as immigrant. I have revelled in the laid-back culture here, a culture that does not take itself too seriously, a culture that forgives lateness and mistakes as normal human error, that never claims to be THE LEADER OF THE WORLD, that kisses on the cheek instead of waves, that takes naps, that tells a neverending stream of jokes, that dances till 6 am, that drinks gallons of mate and fernet-con-coca, that eats barbeque every week and always makes time for family and friends and for RELAXING (imagine that?). I hope to be able to incorporate pieces of this cultural philosophy into my life in the U.S. when I return.
In July, I traveled to México to visit a good friend of mine from Córdoba, Ana, who was studying there for a semester. Actually getting there was quite an adventure… to the extent that my mother (who speaks no Spanish) actually braved calling Ana (who speaks limited English) to see if I was still alive. The journey included an 8 hour layover in the Santiago airport, a 4:30 am flight to Perú, a mix-up in travel arrangments when I finally arrived to México and a spontaneous 11-hour bus ride to the South of the country where I finally met up with my friend, threw my bags down, and collapsed on the floor. Together Ana and I traveled first to the state of Chiapas, where we explored the rainforest, visited many Mayan ruin sites, and got to know a little about some indigenous communities.
In Quintana Roo, I spent days admiring the brilliant, warm, turquoise Carribean ocean water.
In a small town near the border of Guatemala, we went to eat dinner at a market one night and ended up chatting with the man who made our hamburgers. He told us about his journey to the U.S., where he walked through the desert until his feet burned and was able to make it into Arizona without being caught by Border Patrol. He lived in the U.S. for a few lonely and difficult years and worked incredibly hard doing manual labor to make enough money to support his family, at which point he returned to México. This was the first time that Ana had heard such a story (which has unfortunately become exceedingly common in the U.S.) and she was really affected by it. As we lay in bed in our cabin that night, she asked me a lot of questions. She asked me how I felt about my country that acts like it owns the world and yet mistreats most of the world. She said that she hated our greedy, racist, xenophobic and colonizing attitude. I can’t say I disagree.
In many moments I have felt ashamed of my country, even wished I could say I was from somewhere else. When I say I am from the United States, people generally do not respond with any lighthearted curiosity as they already have an idea of what our culture is like from the T.V., movies, and music that we export. I really believe our pop culture is one of our biggest exports. The only kinds of questions I am generally asked are: “Do you really eat fried food all the time?” “Why is there so much obesity/gun violence/etc. in your country?” “Why does your country get involved in so many wars?” “Do college students really party all the time like you see on T.V.?” “What do you think of Obama/George W. Bush/etc.?”
Treatment of immigrants in the U.S. is an especially sensitive point for me. As I have traveled down here, I have entered any and every country I have wanted to with no visa and no problem and I have been consistently treated with generosity and respect. Despite the mixed feelings towards the U.S. down here, I have always been treated as an individual and no one has reduced their opinion of me to my nationality. I was able to find good work easily. On multiple occasions, I have been offered a bed and food from strangers. People actually cater to me and my language, making an effort to use whatever English they can to make ME comfortable and never criticizing my command of Spanish. When I overstayed my tourist visa by a week before traveling to México I was forgiven and I paid no fine. I take this experience and I compare it the experience of many Spanish speaking immigrants in the United States and it makes me sick with disbelief, guilt and anger. Why should I be able to travel so freely across this Earth that we all share and they not? In the U.S. we question immigrants’ “right” to live in “our” country, we treat them with hostility, aggression, mistrust and racism, we call them illegal. We accuse them of stealing from us and we ask why they can’t just learn English already. What is wrong with us?
As a country built by immigrants, it really is a disgrace that we act this way. We have such a wonderful opportunity for inter-cultural communication and collaboration in the U.S. and we squander it every day. I hope to be able to get involved once again the immigrants-rights movement when I return to the U.S. Living here has given me a small window in what it’s like to live as an immigrant, in terms of culture shock, language confusion, and feelings of isolation and nostalgia for home, and I can’t imagine dealing with discrimination and financial instability on top of it.
On a lighter note, I think that people of my generation are learning foreign languages and traveling internationally much more than previous generations and that this will hopefully aide in breaking down barriers of misunderstanding between cultures. I cannot stress enough how much learning another language changes and amplifies your perspective of the world. Last weekend I traveled to Jujuy, Argentina (the northernmost province of the country) with my friend Rebecca and a group of international students from the U.S., Canada (Quebec), France, Sweden, México, Colombia, Japan, and Taiwan and four guides from Argentina. Everyone was so kind and the landscapes were unreal. We got to see the famous montañas de siete colores (7 colored mountains) and salinas grandes (salt plains). It’s the closest I’ve felt to being on the moon or some other planet.
In my spare time, I still do as many circus-related activities as possible. A few weeks ago was the annual Circus Festival and artists from all over the country as well as Chile, Spain, and Brasil came to perform and give workshops. Obviously, I was in heaven. I did a two-day tightwire walking workshop which was INCREDIBLY challenging and in many ways a metaphor for everyday life. You have to have a strong center, use your arms to balance yourself, and believe that you’re not going to fall because the more you believe you’re going to fall, the more likely it is that you will. Here I am attempting to do a split on the tightwire.
Last but not least I have started taking portuguese classes and although I only know enough at this point to say mundane things like “How are you?” (Como vai voce?) “I am a woman” (Eu sou uma mulher) and “I like pizza” (Eu gosto de comer pizza) I am enjoying myself. Lucky for me portuguese is very similar to Spanish so although I am not able to say a lot yet, I understand most everything that my teacher says without difficulty. I am hoping to get a chance to visit Brasil before returning home to the U.S. in 2014 and put some of this to use.
Sending much love to all of you.