America, the beautiful


I'm happily resettling into Boston and with my birthday coming up next week and a new apartment I'll be moving into the following week, I have plenty to celebrate.

But the most important thing I've been celebrating recently is America. Especially on Independence Day, especially having been out of the country for almost a month. It's now two weeks since I returned from the Middle Kingdom, and while I'm missing the hustle of Shanghai, I'm loving the United States more than ever. This will probably surprise a few people, but no one more than myself.

I've had a conflicted relationship with my national identity. That's no secret. And the more languages I studied, the more conflicted it became. Studying the Middle East, Latin America, and East Asia, I saw my fair share of hatred of the United States. Through liberal friends and liberal arts coursework during college, I developed a heightened awareness of all the things the U.S. was doing wrong.

I was frustrated with my country for all the boundaries it created for my desired course of study and career.

Being American (specifically a Caucasian, female, Jewish one) meant I could never go to study in the Middle East and feel safe. Even if I wasn't some sort of target for harassment or violence, no matter how good my Arabic was, I believe I'd still be seen as "American" first and "Erica" later.

For a while, I considered a highly BRICS-oriented career, hoping for an opportunity involving trade relations between China and Brazil. The opportunities exist. But I'm not a Chinese-speaking Brazilian citizen or a Portuguese-speaking Chinese citizen. For that kind of a job, it's still far more compelling to hire a national since their stake in the job is obvious: it's for their country. So again, being American dashed my dreams, this time of doing work (or at least work unrelated to America) between two non-American nations.

At any rate, since high school, maybe earlier, there was nothing more I wanted than to exchange my U.S. passport for a passport that would be regarded as less offensive around the world. A passport from Switzerland or Lichtenstein, perhaps? Maybe that would lend me the ability to really study, understand, and facilitate communication with nations that both misunderstand and are misunderstood by America. I wanted to be a global citizen, first and a citizen of some nation, second. But in my pursuits so far, the buck stopped at my American passport.

This trip to China changed my perspective, and the implications of the trip with regard to career will likely surface in coming posts. But for this post, I'm sharing the following revelation:

At least for now, many countries in the world, China included, are mostly for the people who live there and don't really welcome foreigners other than tourists (and some may not even be so welcoming of those).

But America is for everybody. The immigration system needs work, racial and ethnic prejudice abounds, and there are so many other problems I cannot even begin to address in the post, but the idea behind America is to welcome anybody from any country. And even with all the problems, America does this pretty well. I can't think of another nation that welcomes the rest of the world well (outside the time period of hosting the Olympic games) relative to America.

After being in a sea of Han Chinese for three weeks (or European tourists in the case of my one night at Bar Rouge), the sheer color palette of America was the second-most welcoming thing I saw when I returned from my trip (the first was clean air, tied with clean water).

The U.S. screws it up sometimes. And badly. But I have to ask--what country is really doing it better all around--from making mistakes to making progress? What country stands for something purer than freedom and opportunity for anyone who enters the borders with respect for those ideas?

In other words, I'm finally beginning to take some pride in being American rather than being ashamed of it.