The latest images on the news have had me thinking a lot lately. Does the war in Iraq affect me? Do the elections in Mexico have any influence on my daily life? Should I be concerned about Guatemala, Bolivia, or Korea?
Asking whether or not these things affect me begs a deeper, more significant question. Are Americans capable of even feeling what is going on in other parts of the world?
In my mind there is no question whatsoever that the world affects me. Whether or not a person can feel it, or better said, if they are willing to feel it, is another issue. Like most, it is for me to just think about my own world and how things are going on Beacon Hill and in the South End.
So can Americans truly tune into what is happening? Evidence would suggest not. However, some might sound like the following if they were truly being honest, in my opinion:
"I live in a society built on self-interest. I am concerned and interested with things that involve me. Either they will aid or threaten me. If they are not any of these then I have no reason to be interested, concerned, resolved or conflicted. I take no position unless taking one aides in my profit or prevents my deficit. Who am I? I am an American. I am a person who chooses to go along with what the television tells me not because it's really what I believe, but because I don't really believe anything else. I am the epitome of neutrality, the hallmark of apathy, and the essence of indifference."
These are hardly the words of freedom-loving, flag-waving good ol' Americans. However they are the actions and the attitudes of such people. How tragic that people can live out their lives under such profound contradiction.
To be called "land of the free and the home of the brave" seems to suggest that Americans are free and courageous. But nowhere do people speak of freedom requiring responsibility, and yet on all levels responsibility goes hand in hand with freedom. I suppose people like to have their cake and eat it, too.
Certainly bravery and courage don't imply that one needs to dodge bullets and engage others in combat. True courage was seen when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continued to march while having rocks thrown at him. Bravery was displayed when Muhammad Ali accepted his sentence to jail after refusing to fight in Vietnam, and then shaking the hands of the guards who were supposed to be watching over him.
Courage is having the will to love when it's easiest to hate, but unfortunately American's perception of courage is as backwards and twisted as its foreign policy.
So how do the rest of the world's wars and traumas affect me? They affect me by the policy that is perpetuated around the world by the government, by the resources that continue to be taken from the poor, and by the immense ignorance and lies that infect people in this society. This isn't exactly something that shows up clearly while driving down Rainer Avenue South or walking to the Red Apple Market. But if you really stop and think about it, isn't true? Don't we all know this and just not say anything?
How can I celebrate my freedom while others scream in pain at their suffering and enslavement? Malcolm X once said, "You don't stab a man nine inches, pull the knife out six inches and celebrate your progress."
In the spirit of such wise words from a profound mover and shaker, I am reminded of another quote by the same person; "The only way we'll get freedom for ourselves is to identify with every oppressed people in the world. We are blood brothers to the people of Brazil, Venezuela, Haiti and Cuba."
So I'm left with an aching question. Is the so-called "greatest country in the world" mature enough to identify with the pain and suffering of others? Or is the United States truly like a typical 16-year-old with a brand new license and a car? Freedom without responsibility. Not only that, has anyone ever asked why this is the "greatest country?" A lot of people would like a response beyond "because." To me ignorance and arrogance is displayed when folks wave a flag or go off to war in the name of a false democracy.
Disagree with me if you will, as I may with you, but isn't that what democracy is all about, or is that a lie as well? Some might say that this kind of talk is anti-American, but if questioning and thinking critical about the world you live in is anti-American, then perhaps that is why I'm reminded once again why I call myself Chicano. I go back to what many of us have experienced our whole lives; namely being unacceptable to those in power in this country.
So the next time you watch the news or stand in line at the store and see a magazine; the next time you ride the bus or drive your car; the next time you go to Seward Park or spend time at Jefferson Golf Course, remember that there are things happening outside of our society. Take some time and feel it.
If you can really feel it, then maybe you'd be willing to do something.
Enrique Gonzalez is a resident of the Skyway neighborhood in South Seattle and works at El Centro de la Raza. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.