Monday, November 8, 2010
American: what is that?
West Side Story
Today my parents left to meet with a business associate in Puerto Rico. They will be there for about a week before heading off to a convention on a cruise ship. They aren't particularly excited about being stuck on a boat with the other convention goers. My parents are real home bodies. They don't enjoy social events unless they already know and like everyone present. And even then, neither can be classified as social butterflies. My mother is more adventurous than my father. She enjoys traveling and site seeing and trying new foods more than my father. But she stresses out on the details and spends a great deal of time planning everything so as not to forget something important.
One thing my mom doesn't have to plan, stress over, or worry about at all is what to do with her children when she and Dad are away on business trips. We've managed just fine ever since my oldest sister was able to drive and they felt comfortable to leave us for extended periods of time. We all know how to cook, when to go to bed, when to wake, and how to figure out sticky situations. Plus, we have each had a turn at managing the family budget and debit card, so grocery shopping and everything else for the budget is already taken care of as just another weekly chore.
When I was in high school my dad's boss' step daughter lived with us for most of a school year. During that time period my parents left on one of their business trips, leaving us kids to hold down the fort.
There were no crazy parties.
We still had dinner together every night.
The house was not trashed.
We had family prayers at the regular times.
Perplexed, she noted that everything was . . . normal. We didn't change at all when my parents went out of town.
For some reason my parents usually feel inclined to leave us with assignments when they go out of town. This time around we get to move all of our belongings into the new house over the next two weeks. It's totally doable. Just coming out of college where I had to move everything I own at least twice a year, this will be a piece of cake. We have no real deadline and we're not even moving everything over -- just the good stuff.
Somehow, that statement makes me feel very . . . American. Everything deemed less than "good enough" will either permanently remain in the old house or be thrown away as trash.
I've grown up with a government of checks and balances; a Constitution and Bill of Rights. On one side my family dates back to pre-Declaration of Independence. On the other side I'm only one generation removed from immigration. I have relatives and ancestors that have fought in nearly every war in which the US has been involved. I suppose this qualifies me to be about as American as they come.
I have grown up free from religious, racial, and gender persecution. I have never had to fight to be who I am or for what I want to accomplish in life -- I have always been, simply, accepted. Is that what it is to be American?
There are people in this world who are born and die in conditions that we would consider barbaric. War is not on the television screen, it's just down the street from their house. There are places in the world where government powers repress citizens and let them die at the hands of hunger, violence and ignorance. There are things in this world that ought never to exist, yet are seen as common place.
I have never had to pick up my most basic belongings and flee my home at a moment's notice. It is likely that I never will. It is also likely that I will always live in places with clean running water, natural gas, and nice appliances. Does this qualify me to be American?
So, yeah, moving is going to be very easy. There are no obstacles. I have the freedom to do it as I please in the time frame that I please with few limitations. The most I'm afraid of is scratching the solid wood floors or tracking mud all over the place and having to clean.
Other people have already paid the price for freedoms, equality, and justice that I take for granted every day. A price I will not be asked to pay. There are certainly things to be cautious of in my life as an American citizen over the next sixty years or so -- but I can't predict what they may be. Right now I feel strapped into a cushy life of excess and privilege by the world's average standard of living. What does it mean to be American, anyway?
Some family friends warned my parents to leave all jewelry -- even wedding bands -- at home before going to Puerto Rico. They said that anything of value is liable to be stolen. But isn't that true of any place inside of the United States, too?
Puerto Rico is an unincorporated territory of the United States. They have been granted the right to organize a republican system of government with three branches, just like the United States. Their head of state is the President of the United States of America. They can vote in the primaries if living in Puerto Rico and in presidential elections if living in one of the 50 states.
So, a simple change of address and Puerto Ricans are automatically Americans? Actually no. But, I suppose they are the most American immigrants in America.
What does it mean to be American, anyhow?
I somehow doubt that my parents really had to leave their wedding bands at home. I'm sure they will have a lovely time. And when they get home their children will be waiting for them without burning down any houses, flunking out of school, or dying of starvation.