When I left the states for South America in 2005, I was definitely not a patriotic person. I mean, 200 years of slavery, a hundred years of legal segregation, and another forty of trigger-happy police incursions and a societal fear of black men do not exactly compel me to sing “God Bless America.” Still, living abroad has instilled in me what I’d call a passive sense of nationalism, manifested as a nostalgia for certain uniquely American cultural attributes that can’t be found anywhere else. The United States is absolutely not “the best country in the world.” No place is. But the US definitely has a lot of cool stuff going for it. This is my list of ten things I appreciate about the States:
10) Magazines. I mean, damn, one whole wall at Barnes & Noble (or Books-A-Million) is dedicated to the glossy, shiny alternate universe of magazines. There’s one for every geek boner you could imagine, from crocheting to dirt biking to porn. And besides the staples of every black household (Ebony, Essence, and the ubiquitous Jet), I get to see gorgeous people of color smiling back at me from the covers of Vanity Fair and Men’s Health and Time as if we’ve actually overcome!
9) Healthy Foods. Here in Colombia, a small, 10-slice pack of turkey breast costs $6. At Winn-Dixie, a pound of sliced turkey breast costs $4. Tropical and temperate fruits. Peanut butter. Protein bars and granola bars and low-carb bars and cereal bars. Yeah, lots of it might be processed and/or preserved, but dammit…we grow tall and big and strong in the USA!
8) Concerts. Mavis Staples. Kid Sister. Seu Jorge. Bebel Gilberto. Afrika Bambaataa. Julieta Vanegas. Dave Hollister. Santogold. Crosby, Stills & Nash. Los Lonely Boys. Black Dice. Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens. All free this summer in New York. That’s just one venue in one city for one season.
7) American Cinema. Citizen Kane. Gone With the Wind. Imitation of Life. Gilda. All About Eve. Blazing Saddles. Young Frankenstein. The Wiz. Jo-Jo Dancer, Your Life is Calling. Jungle Fever. New Jack City. Juice. Lean On Me. Krush Groove. Love Jones. Eve’s Bayou. I Like It Like That. Casino. Heat. The Shawshank Redemption. American Beauty. Fargo. Requiem for a Dream. Any Given Sunday. A Christmas Story. The Hours. Bring It On (just playin’). And absolutely everything in between. (I couldn’t even begin to wrap my mind around a “comprehensive” list.)
6) Landscapes. The amber waves of grain on the Great Plains. Purple mountain majesties of the Rockies. The rocky cliffs of California. The infinite flatness of the Everglades. Volcanoes and pine forests and glaciers and beaches with black and white and beige and coral sands. America is beautiful.
5) Black American and Southern culture. Of course, these often overlap. Grits and eggs and grits and bacon and grits and fish and grits and corned beef hash and grits and fried bologna and cornbread and collard greens and barbecue and boiled crabs (with potatoes and corn and Roger Wood sausages) and, yes, chitlins and music at parties and games of spades and tonk (or “tunk”) and drawls and twangs and shit-talkin and rankin’ on somebody’s mama til somebody gets mad and breakin out movie lines like “You ain’t got-ta lie, Craig!” and breakin out old dances like the Reebok and the Cabbage Patch and the Running Man and the Roger Rabbit (and the Squirrel and the Tawlet Bowl and the Woop and the Tootsie Roll) and HBCU football games and step shows and dropped r’s (pahk the cah, nah!) and words like chuch and mm-hmm and well! and my-my-my and Jesus Lawd and the odd-count grunt that generations of black women have perfected when receiving bad/interesting/surprising news: mmm. Mmm-mmm-mmm. Mmm-mmm-mmm-mmm-mmm. Thems my peoples.
4) Diversity. There is no other country on Earth with more than two truly international cities. There’s always been the gateways – New York, LA, Miami, San Fran. The capital – Washington. The classics – Philly and Boston. The magnet – Chicago. But now, even bastions of regionalized Americana are noticeably microcosmic – Atlanta, Seattle, Dallas, Houston. On any given weekend, you can leave your Mandarin Chinese class to fill-up on some pad Thai before hitting a salsa spot and then an afterparty with a Brazilian DJ. Or you could just go straight to Magic City right after that pad Thai.
3) Comparative success of Black Americans. Nowhere else in the hemisphere do the descendants of African slaves have as many opportunities to develop socioeconomically than in the US, in spite of foolishness from both mainstream society (of which we’re less than 14% of the population) and amongst ourselves. Black immigrants from the Caribbean might do well in Canada, but not too many of them do that well back in their home countries. Colombia’s cool and I love Brazil, but we still got a long way to go in those places, too, which is disheartening since half of Brazil’s 200 million people are of African descent, as well as 40% of Colombia’s. And there are no Latin American Obamas, Oprahs, Colins, Condis, Kenneth Chenaults, or Richard Parsonses. In many places, like where I live, they still Driving Miss Daisy.
2) Freedom of speech and political discourse. “BUCK FUSH!” There, I said it.
Try saying “Puck Futin,” “Chuck Favez,” “Ruck Ufibe,” or “Cuck Fastro” in their respective countries, and thas yo ass.
1) English. I love languages, especially those of the Romance variety (Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian son mis favoritos). Still, much useful information about the world in which we live is only available in the home language of the country that produces that information, and in English. I haven’t seen any Spanish-language publication or broadcast news source that gives as complete coverage to global issues as the Economist. If I get lost at the airport in Dapango, Togo, I guarantee you somebody’s gon speak a lil English. It’s the lingua franca of the new millenium, y’all, and I’m glad I got to learn it growing up so I wouldn’t have to be bothered with learning its ridiculous spelling and pronunciation system as an adult.
What do my fellow expats appreciate about the States?