Conflictingly, I feel both estranged from my homeland and more poignantly aware of my "Americanness" than ever in the wake of tragedy at home. Hearing about the events in Arizona brought about a kind of lonesomeness for my countrymen that I haven't even come close to feeling since my life abroad began. I feel removed from my country, finding out about the weekend's events as one in another room overhears news of a catastrophe via muffled voices through a wall. I imagine back home, awareness of this tragedy would be unavoidable, that people are awash in it in dinner conversations and media over-coverage, sharing in the rage and the finger pointing and just plain frustration. Yeah it may seem like people are dividing over it and taking sides, but from my perspective looking in, I see that it is still "our" thing to feel so emotionally charged over... like I'm looking into a fishbowl where the fish are fighting but I can see they are still in the same bowl....if that makes sense. Here in China, it seems most Chinese people haven't even heard about what happened in Arizona or if they have, don't have much to say. My fellow foreign teachers here know about it, but not much more than a scanning of a Yahoo news page. I have nowhere to channel this need to talk about it, to hear more about it, to share in some mutual sense of horror that can also somehow bring people together. It's not that I blame my fellow foreign teachers for lack of curiosity; it's not like I've taken any interest in Ireland's financial crisis or that I could even tell you one thing about Sweden's current events. But it does make me feel for the first time and with a pang, the existence of my national identity.  

I'm not sure why, maybe for some kind of comfort, I had to download the Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I lay in my bed and watched it this afternoon. His speech about the massacre, much to my own surprise, made me cry a little bit, I feel like a cheese ball for admitting it. What he said... it's just so exactly how I feel. I suppose I downloaded the Daily Show because when things are crazy and mixed up, I need help processing it, to make sense of it as Jon Stewart said. I'm a part of a community when I watch his show, a community of Americans who feel comforted in hearing one of our own put our crazy country into perspective, help us deal with that vague sense of what it "is" to be an American because it is something. It's so hard to put my finger on it, but I think Jon Stewart captures that sense for me, that feeling of being on the brink of either crying or laughing at the absurdity of us, us Americans or us humans or whatever it is. 

A Chinese friend once asked me if I felt proud to be an American. I didn't have to think about it much before I answered in the affirmative, but then he asked "Why?". That one was tougher to articulate. I don't know exactly why per se. It's not that I'm proud of everything we've done or are doing, or that I think we have all the answers, or that our political system is necessarily the best one. Where does the sense of pride come from? Maybe it's life-long social programming, a childhood's worth of pledging to a flag. Maybe nationalism is human nature. But I still think it's more than that. I dunno. Forgive me if I'm about to sound conceited but... The rest of the world really looks to us. Often in the capacity of a train wreck, or a crazy drunk aunt at a wedding party (oh my god what is she going to say or do next?), but they're still looking. We have their attention. One thing I've noticed in my experience abroad through multiple countries is that there's something undeniably "cool" about America. The rest of the world devours this covetable coolness which comes in the form of our movies, music, and clothes. We're like the cool kids in school in a lot of ways. The other kids want our cool stuff, sometimes resent us for being conceited and thinking the rest of the world revolves around us... sometimes we're bullies... But the really cool kids are always the ones who stick up for people and do the right thing and constantly try to improve themselves, and I think we have that aspect to our country too. I guess part of my sense of being American is that we give ourselves permission to change, and that we really believe we can fix our flaws and be better than we are. It's why Obama's message spoke so strongly to so many Americans, including me. It's that American ideal.. which by definition is unobtainable since it's, well, idealized. But that has never stopped us for reaching for it anyway. Falling flat on our faces in the reach, but damnit if we don't jump up and keep reaching some more.  I guess that unreachableness is why it's also known as the Dream (you know the one). But to our credit, I gotta say that nobody dreams bigger and better than us! 

Anyway, I feel a little better after writing this. Forgive the unfocused prose and the lack of pretty pictures, I just needed to open my mouth and spew nonsense about stuff that I really know nothing about and don't understand... in that particular way I suspect only an American can. 


donna Robertson

01/12/2011 12:55:33

This is a beautiful piece of writing. Wish we were at least in the same friggin time zone!!!!


01/18/2011 07:36:18


this really touched me. i'd like to talk more about it when you visit.


01/21/2011 02:20:13

We download The Daily Show and The Colbert Report every day. It is the one thing that keeps us connected to the States beyond just our family. Even though I read several news websties everyday, it doesn't keep us as connected as watching them. We even got to watch their Rally to Restore Sanity/Fear streamed live which was really nice to be a part of.


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