“Where are you from?”
It’s a question we get asked frequently in American Samoa, and really, anywhere we’ve traveled outside of the US. Over the past few years, I’ve felt less pride in claiming the United States of America as my home. I feel some guilt. I also feel justified by the repugnant, hateful, and combative culture which seems to have overtaken Mainstream America.
We’ve come across terms such as “citizen of the world” and “third culture kids” to replace the need to claim a certain country or region. Instead, we find ourselves claiming Planet Earth as our home.
Disgusted and Done
One year ago, the kids and I boarded a plane that would take us across the Pacific Ocean, to join Nate in a place far from our home. Don’t get me wrong, I love our country. I love all that it stands for. But I was sick of being surrounded by hateful and hypocritical rhetoric being spewed by everyone from age nine to ninety-nine. I was tired of the box that had been constructed to hold everyone in, trying to force us all to follow the crowd. And I was desperate to ensure that our kids would know the world, not just Almighty America. And so we said good-bye to land of our birth, without any intention of returning within the foreseeable future.
Away from It All
I have loved our year in American Samoa, even though it’s a US territory, people rarely talk about DC politics and there is a general sense of autonomy here. While life here isn’t perfect, it’s the escape we were looking for. People ask us where we plan to move next,after our two-year contract is over. “Anywhere, there’s a whole, big world out there! Anywhere, except where we’ve been.”
Still Proud to Be an American
A few days ago, on July 4th, we attended the Independence Day Celebration. Hadley performed the hula with her dance group (which was awesome, in case you were wondering, so proud of my island girl!). After which, there was a musical guest, Tenelle, and plenty of island vibe. It was like no 4th of July celebration I had ever been to. It did end with a fireworks show. Of course, you say? These were the first fireworks on the island in 5-10 years (depending on who you ask).
As I sat there, surrounded by my kids, watching fireworks exploding over the water, listening to the most authentic responses from this crowd of Samoans, who were genuinely in awe of the display, the song by Lee Greenwood, “Proud to Be an American”, came in to my head. In that moment, I saw past the dishonest and dishonorable politicians, the fear-mongering, the cold, loveless indifference, and the superficial priorities of our country.
I thought about the American people who lift each other up; the ones who cooperate to bring innovation and love to the world. I remembered the quality teachers who work to guide the youth, the doctors and nurses who save lives and restore quality of life, the service men and women who promise to give their all, the ordinary people who care about their neighbors and work hard to build up their communities. Suddenly, I felt more patriotic pride than I have in a long time. The line, “that flag still stands for freedom and they cant take that away” somehow meant more.
I’m American, but America Is Not My Home
My mind is still set upon taking my family to explore and discover what else this world has to offer. I still have no desire to get in the middle of any of the myriad of political debates. And I’m still totally open to the idea that our family might, one day, find a place where we feel completely at home, where we want to settle down long-term, that just might be outside the Good Ole’ US of A. But I also feel a renewed determination to stand up, alongside the kind, conscientious, and purposeful citizens of our country. If the world only sees the corrupt, pompous, or mean-hearted, that’s all they’ll associate us with. But if more of us can work hard to be unprejudiced, open-minded, welcoming, and interested in the greater good, then we might still have a chance of showing what our country still stands for.
So next time someone asks me, “Where are you from?” I’m going to swallow that feeling of embarrassment down and prove to myself, and to the world, being an American can still be a good thing.