Sometimes I’m From Canada: Being American in Countries America Screwed

Everyone loves Canadians. They’re harmless and adorable with their “eh”s and their arctic tundra. No one’s got any beef with Canada.

America, on the other hand…well that’s a different story. Everyone hates America, and they often have reason to.

Let me begin by talking about myself and my “Americanism.” I’ve never been too much of a patriot. Sure, I’d stand for the Pledge of Allegiance in school and put my hand over my heart during the National Anthem at high school football games. But I never understood the extreme patriotism I saw in others: the flags hanging on the porch, the stars-n-stripes painted mailbox, the red-white-and-blue themed kitchen.

Don’t get me wrong—I’m grateful for having been born in a place where I’ve been free to practice a religion, where I’ve been able to state my opinions, etc.  But I don’t think I’ll ever understand the “greatest country on the face of the planet” mentality.

I’ve known a lot of super-patriots, and some of you reading this right now may be that.  One thing I’ve noticed is that they feel like America is the best country ever, therefore the American people are the best people in the world. Arrogance ensues.

“We’re better than you because we’re ‘free.’ We’re always right. You’ll never bring us down. Mess with us and we will make you suffer. I’m right because I’m American, never mind my status as a high school dropout.”

Ironically, many of these super-patriots are those who have never left the country for more than a cruise to Mexico or perhaps a vacation to Paris.  Many have not experienced the lives of other cultures, especially eastern cultures. They treat the world as a tourist attraction to be enjoyed for a weekend in which they can visit the beaches, taste local cuisine, and carefully ignore the local way of life, because it is sometimes ugly and almost always “wrong.”

 Most people I’ve met outside the US want what we want: to be happy, to raise and care for their family, to enjoy life. Yes, even in communist countries.

America is not always right. It is not the objectively best country in the world. It has faults and makes mistakes.

I’ve been out of the country for a year and a half now, for the second time. This time around I’m happy that I’m away. I’m glad I was gone for the elections. I’m glad to not have been embroiled in the war between my liberal and conservative friends about same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana.  I’m glad to have not been present for the news stories of school and other mass shootings, and the ensuing debate on gun control.  

Instead, I’ve been in Southeast Asia, learning about the peoples and cultures here, learning that there are far more important things than talking about who can marry whom. In Thailand, for instance, “lady-boys” blend into the public and no one questions or cares about their sexuality, relationships, or genital circumstances.  Instead, they focus on religious traditions, cultural festivals, and the growing education sector.

 Furthermore, I’ve learned of some of the atrocities committed by the United States that makes me ashamed to claim it as my motherland.

Currently, we are in Vietnam. Everyone knows what happened here, I assume. The reasoning as to why  it happened is unclear and weakly disguised in a big-brother attitude of protecting freedom.  You can imagine my feelings of shame and awkwardness when locals ask me where I am from.

Perhaps worse still is what happened in Laos. We have talked about this tragedy here and here. If you don’t want to look at the links, I’ll recap.  America was so set on destroying the “commies” of Vietnam, that they attacked Laos with cluster bombs to get rid of any of the Vietnamese that may have spilled over across the border. A large percentage of these bombs did not detonate, and now, 50 years after the bombs were dropped, they kill or injure hundreds of people a year. I’ve met people who are missing hands or legs or are blind because of these bombs.

And I apologize for being American.

When I can’t admit to being from the country that maimed them, an unintended target half a century later, I claim Canada.  I’m too ashamed to admit being from the Great United States, an invader country, an enforcer of “freedom” and “democracy,” whether wanted or not.  Canada serves me just fine.

And yet the amazing thing about it is that when I do let out where I’m from, I am forgiven. I can see in their eyes that the moment of awareness, that moment of connection. I am from the place that killed their family, destroyed their homes, disrupted their lives. And they can see the apology in my eyes, and they forgive.

A man we gave a ride to didn’t turn us out of his home. Instead, he invited us in for dinner. His mother welcomed us with open arms, despite my heritage. As she gave me a hug, I wanted to apologize for every ill my country committed against her, for any pain she has ever felt because America “knows better.”

I know of fellow Americans who decry “the communists,” that disembodied word that stands for every evil worthy of condemnation, who would turn away a Vietnamese man who fought in the war for being a threat to freedom. That same man would likely invite you to a glass of homemade rice wine and chuckle as you grimace from the strength of it and challenge you to another glass.

Now in saying all this, please understand I’m not “anti-American.” I don’t wish the destruction of my country, and I’m not in cahoots with so-called terrorists.  I admire the hard-working attitude of many Americans, and the national drive for ingenuity, creativity, and inventiveness. I recognize that our drive to “help” other countries may be misguided, but derives from a genuine desire to share with others the freedoms we enjoy.   I don’t believe other countries are perfect either. Each country has its unique challenges along with its strengths.

But it is my wish that every American take a step back and have a good long look at your homeland. It is not a god-country; it is not infallible. It is not perfect. It makes mistakes. Contrary to popular belief, communists are not the devil. Obama is not a socialist. And unless you’re going to ship your leftovers across the earth, you have no right to talk about “starving children in China.”

I encourage you all to take a look at what works in other countries. The only way our country can improve is to glean knowledge and practices from other places where such things are proven to work for the good of the country.

I have no intention or desire to return to the States for a while. Instead, I’d like to take some more time for my worldview to mature. I’d like to understand the workings of societies and communities outside my own. I want to widen my zeitgeist to include the good from other places. When I do return, I want to have something to offer.

Until then, I’m Canadian, eh?

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