By Nathan Allen
I must admit, this video of U2's "Bono" talking about how "America Is An Idea" has me brimming with patriotism.
Well, I didn't always feel this way.
To be honest, when I first left the U.S. and ventured out into the world, I avoided other Americans like the plague. Growing up in California, I kind of absorbed the idea that my country was some sort of scourge on the face of the earth. I assumed that others around the globe would share this view (some do), but the reality turned out to be quite a bit more nuanced.
As much as I didn't want to admit it, over time I realized that I definitely had been living in a bubble. The new friends I made in various countries helped me adjust the lens through which I saw not only myself, but also my OWN country.
Red, White, and...Bánh mì?
For example, I never imagined that I would see north Vietnamese youth plastering American flags all over their motorbike helmets, but indeed I saw just that.
Speaking of which, on one return trip to California I was invited to the beautiful home of a Vietnamese refugee family. As I looked around I couldn't keep my eyes from welling up with pride. For now, not only did I have an understanding of the challenges they faced to get here, but also a deep appreciation for the opportunities afforded to them in the United States.
(Not only for them, but anybody with the determination to keep reaching for it.)
In fact, one of the greatest gifts I have been given is being able to view my country through the eyes of an immigrant. My wife is from the Philippines, and it was eye opening to hear her say "if
we have kids, I want them to have what you have". She was talking about freedom...not just having freedom, as many great countries of course do, but actually being free.
She sees it as a state of mind, something deep within the psyche of many Americans.
We are raised to think that anything is possible; that the sky is the limit. This of course could be seen as overconfidence, but I believe that real innovation and success comes from the ability to dust yourself off after repeated failure.
"You've got to learn how to fall before you learn how to fly."
This is where the "plucky confidence" of Americans really comes into play (despite the fact that on paper, we clearly lag behind many other nations).
Honest Abe's Prediction
Many years ago, Abraham Lincoln warned that the real threat to America would come from within America herself. Never has been this been more apparent to me. After all, before I began to see my
country from the outside (and through the eyes of others), I was on the inside, constantly criticizing and apologizing for it.
Well, No more.
Years of living abroad (coupled with me advancing in age, I suppose) have given me a totally new perspective on things. There is no doubt that my country is flawed, just like many others. However, there is also no doubt that, overall, America has been a force for good in the world. Certainly a great, stabilizing force.
As Americans of all colors and backgrounds, we must stay vigilant and united. We should be wary of those who try to misrepresent who and what we are. Yes, we are struggling through an incredibly polarizing time right now, especially during another contentious election year. However, we're tough and tested...we have a classic western expression: "this ain't our first rodeo!"
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A Distorted Sense Of Reality
It was a European friend that reminded me how American media often seems wildly out of touch with reality. "If it bleeds it leads", isn't that how the old saying goes? Well, in my humble opinion it seems to be true. I've spent over 20 years documenting life in the U.S. and other countries, and I barely recognize the world portrayed in our media.
The "State Of Jefferson"
In order to capture the incredible scenery in California's Sierra Nevada, my wife and I moved to a sparsely populated rural county near Yosemite
National Park. This area is over 90% white, and deeply Republican. In other words, "Trump Country". In fact, this county is so "red" that most people here want to secede from California, creating
a conservative new 51st state - "The State Of Jefferson"!
Given the hate and vitriol we're led to believe that white America has for non-white people, we should be terrified, right? Even her friends in Asia sent concerned emails, worried that "Billy Bob" was going to try and hunt her down...all because they saw something scary on CNN.
Well not so fast.
Keep in mind that my wife is a morena (darker skinned) Filipina. To me, she's as beautiful as can be. To them...well, she may be the same, but I can guarantee you they're well aware she's not white.
However, to our shock, they have been nothing but absolutely wonderful to her. Even the staff at her hospital checkups (which I can't join, due to Covid) have been incredibly kind and helpful to her.
Does this mean that racism in America no longer exists? Certainly not. Does it mean that it's purposely exaggerated for political / monetary gain? Well, you're going to have to be the judge of that.
Sifting Through The B.S.
As asinine as it sounds, one trick I've learned is to simply use my own real-world experience to gauge whether or not something is true. I realized that every time I get online or turn on the
news, I'm led to believe my country is this way or that.
If your real-world experience (or those closest to you) truly reflects what you see on the news, then by all means...continue believing it!
On the other hand, if it doesn't...be skeptical. I think we owe that much to our country and fellow citizens. Whenever possible, I listen to the speeches of politicians (on the right and left) uncut and in full. I will never trust a media outlet to accurately deliver their message through tiny sound bites. I've given them way too many chances.
An Immigrant Success Story
Despite what it may seem, the America I see today is a decent and incredibly diverse nation. After all those years in Asia, I'm particularly proud of the accomplishments of Asian Americans. For
example, for quite some time now, they have the highest median household income in the U.S., and are most likely to receive the best loans from banks. In my view, that is opportunity and hard
work in action.
It's especially impressive coming from the only race that at one point had an oppresive law on the books prohibiting them from even entering the U.S.
I Love Your Country - & Now I Love Mine, Too
To the Americans I met while living abroad, I'm sorry if I avoided you at first. To those I encountered after my "Great American Awakening", you have no idea how much our interaction meant to me. I became incredibly homesick near the end there, and am over the moon to be back home with my wife now - especially after such an arduous wait for her immigration processing.
To my friends in the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Britain, Germany, and Netherlands, thanks for sharing nostalgic stories of your visits to my home country. Thanks for continuing to see America in a positive light - as a beacon of hope, even when I (and countless others) have neglected to.
I loved exploring and getting to know YOUR countries very much, thank you for helping me learn to appreciate my own unique culture and history. I'm honestly a bit embarrassed that it took me this long.
America, absence really does make the heart grow fonder. I took you for granted for oh so many years...I promise it will never happen again.
- Nathan Allen
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