Reflection, Thoughts On...

Why I (Still) Love Living in America

For all you politically-averse people out there (or for the politically-weary, which is seemingly the majority of us), don’t worry—

I’m not going to get too political over here.

The fact is, politics aren’t really my thing. I’ve always been one who believes in keeping the peace rather than getting divisive, in finding common ground rather than nitpicking at differences. Of course, that personal tendency aside, I still find it important to vote, and to be informed about it.

So I did.

I voted.

And last week, as I mailed in my ballot, I had fully reconciled myself to either candidate winning because I knew that no matter what, life would go on. The country would go on. The goodness and kindness of the people around me would go on.

Now, before you hop all over me, I’m not saying that it doesn’t matter who is voted into office (it does).

I’m also not saying that there weren’t real, legitimate fears with either candidate being put in (because there were, and are).

But I have always been a person of hope, a person of faith, a person who believes that in the end, everything works out (and if it all hasn’t worked out yet, it’s not the end).

I believe in taking much more time to appreciate the good rather than using that time to dwell on the bad, the imperfect, or the undesirable.

For awhile, I’ve been intending to write a blog post about how living in a third-world country (El Salvador) for nearly a year and a half really increased my appreciation for what it means to live in America.

So, on this day that is tender and raw and hard and uncertain for so many (even those that may have voted for it), I wanted to offer up my voice in why I still love being an American.

 Our shower in El Salvador

1. This morning, I woke up in our temperature-regulated two-bedroom apartment with carpet and linoleum floors and walked down to my bathroom, where I could wash my hands and face with my choice of cold OR hot water and use a flushing toilet and as much toilet paper as I wanted. I got out clean clothes for my daughter that were washed in a washing machine and dried in a dryer and made breakfast on an electric stove using ingredients that were kept fresh in a refrigerator. My husband took a hot shower (with plenty of water pressure) in a (relatively) clean, white bathroom.

In El Salvador, I woke up in a sweltering house with no air conditioning that had floors made of concrete and peeling linoleum (and we lived in one of the nicest houses in the area—many families lived in huts with literal dirt floors). I crossed the open-roofed courtyard area to our bathroom, where there was only one temperature of water available (cold), which I couldn’t drink without fear of getting seriously ill. Our toilet had lizards living in it, and while we were able to afford toilet paper, many of our neighbors in El Salvador could not (and some didn’t even have modern toilets). Although, once again, we were lucky to have a shower of any kind (even if it was cold water all the time), many of our neighbors bathed by bucket, and sometimes the water would be turned off without any warning by the local city (and we wouldn’t know when it would be turned back on again).

I’m grateful to live in a country where, even though I’m definitely on the lower side of the income equation, I am still far richer than 90% of the population elsewhere in the world.

I am grateful to live in a place where, when something like a power outage or water outage happens, we are almost always forewarned about it and told exactly when it will end. I’m grateful to live in a country where such things are so regulated!

 My friend Francisco, who was 100 years old when this was taken.

2. For breakfast this morning, we had creamed eggs over toast, one of my favorite breakfasts. I didn’t have to worry for one second about whether or not we had food to eat (for we have a full pantry), and I knew that if I wanted to, I could have had a vegan or paleo or gluten-free or Mediterranean or vegetarian breakfast just as easily. I knew that many of our current diet choices aren’t solely determined by only what’s the cheapest, but also what we like and what is (more or less) healthy for us.

In El Salvador, I knew a man named Francisco who was 100 years old and who literally lived in a mud cave that he had hollowed out of the side of a small hill. In that tiny 10 x 10 room, he had no electricity and very few possessions. His chair was a salvaged tire, his one pastime reading and writing in the few books and notebooks he’d managed to acquire over many years. Day by day, he subsisted only on whatever food his neighbor brought for him, or on whatever food (like green beans or mangoes) he was able to find himself along the road. When we asked him what special thing we could do for him on the day of his baptism, he said that what would make the day even more special would be if he could enjoy the typical Salvadorean breakfast–beans, cream, queso fresco, scrambled eggs, and fresh bread–to celebrate, a treat he hadn’t had in years and years.

I am thankful to live in a country where I always have plenty to eat and where, if I were homeless, I would have options as to where I could go or what I could do for food. I know homelessness is a problem in our country, but I’m grateful to live in a place where there are many organizations actively working out solutions and providing resources (something I just didn’t see or hear of in El Salvador).

 Hermano Herrera and his family, a man gone much too soon

3. After breakfast, my husband drove off to his job in our own car, secure in the knowledge that he is making enough to support us on. While he is gone, I don’t need to unduly worry about his safety, either on the roads (thanks to clearly cut traffic laws and dutiful officers) or from third parties seeking to do him harm.

In El Salvador, many men will work full 8 to 10 to 12-hour days and get paid maybe $6 or 8 or $10 dollars per day. While rent and other things might be cheaper down there, many other things cost about the same as they do up here, and some things much, much more. When I lived down there, insurance was simply out of reach of the majority of citizens, and many people were just surviving day by day, week by week.

I once asked a group of people in El Salvador to raise their hands if they personally knew someone who had been killed by one of the gangs that run rampant down there. Every single hand went up. I remember being flabbergasted by this—I had never known anyone myself who had been killed by anybody, and I just remember the feeling of shock that they treated it so casually, as if the answer to the question should have been so obvious. Now, I can also say that I knew someone who was killed by gang violence–about a year after I arrived back in the States, I got the news that one of the best men I knew down there was killed by a gang right in front of his wife and two children, just because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

While we are constantly working to further eradicate crime in our country, the crime rate has drastically decreased over the past two decades, and I know that I am especially lucky to live in a town that has often been ranked as one of the safest college towns in the U.S. I know this is only possible because we have law enforcement officers who are willing to uphold their office and do their jobs to the best of their abilities, and to having laws that enforce consequences for committing crimes. I never knew how much I’d taken our legal system for granted until I lived somewhere else.

 Awaiting the plane that would take me home

4. Last week, I mailed in a vote in an election where my voice counted as much as anyone else’s—as much as a politician’s, as much as a celebrity’s, as much as the person down the road who totally disagrees with me on every single point. Last night I got onto social media and saw people from both sides freely spilling their ideas and worries and passions right out in the open, with no real fear of censure or imprisonment or worse.

While I never voted (obviously) in an election in El Salvador and am not intimately familiar with their government, I do know that there are many places in the world where democracy is not upheld, where freedom of speech is not valued. Although it’s sometimes difficult to read or hear hurtful things about mine or other’s beliefs from someone who wholeheartedly disagrees with everything I say, that is the price that is paid when you live in a country that values freedom of speech, of religion, of free agency, above almost all else.

I honestly could go on and on and on—-I could go on about how here, I don’t have to worry about men leering at me in the street and catcalling and shouting out their baser intentions, or men trying to rub up against me on the public buses. I know that here, if those things happen, I can pursue legal action, that I will have people who will fight for me and who will seek to protect my right to feel safe from sexual harassment.

Here, I don’t need to worry about my kid not having access to basic education or higher education (if she’s willing to work for it) or not having public parks to enjoy or not having water she can safely drink.

Now, this is not all to say that there won’t be challenging times ahead or real, legitimate issues that will need to be worked through. This is also not to say that I have any ill feelings towards the country of El Salvador, which includes many, many of the best and kindest and most generous and hospitable and faithful people I have ever met. In fact, I believe that in the past several years since I’ve lived there, the country has made big strides in many areas for the betterment of the lives of the people living down there.

But I still know that many people living there would literally be willing to give their right hand if they (or their children) could live in the United States.

No, this is all simply to say that we are lucky enough, those of us living in this nation, to have the luxury to worry about the issues we do. Because our basic needs of food and shelter and safety have been met, because many of us belong to communities or have friends who share our ideals and therefore have our social needs met, we are free to pursue the higher ideals of equality and justice and empathy and self-actualization.

And America, you (still) are a pretty perfect place to pursue just those.

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