Sunday, July 11, 2004

I love America

The TV is blasting in a language I don't recognize. The man is ringing up my purchase. Three bottles of pomegranate extract. Direct from Lebanon. I ask what is the language or the TV channel. "Sudan" is the answer I get. His English is broken but I understand he wants to know where I'm from. "France" I answer. "Paris".
Ah! I get an immediate reaction. He frowns and says "Paris. Good. America. Bad". I am not sure I understand him correctly so I make him repeat his sentence. Maybe he thinks this will please me. He is deeply mistaken. I shake my head and tell him. "No, no. America good. America very good".
He is surprised by my reaction and says "America. Money, money." I tell him that in Paris too, it is money, money. Done differently but done nevertheless. I am done with my purchase. I leave him with a heartfelt "I love America" goodbye. He is totally puzzled.

One my way back from a good political discussion with R. The bus stop is empty except for a young man with headphones on. A young woman approaches and asks me for directions. When she leaves, the young fellow turns to me and asks. "Where are you from?" The country of my birth is following me everywhere... "France". "Whoa! That's cool!" he says. I smile. "Why is it cool. It's not anymore cool than being born here or anywhere. I mean. Where are you from?". "San Salvador" he says and now I can hear the light Spanish accent in his voice. "See?" I tell him, "for me San Salvador is cool. I've never been there.."
We start to talk and I learn that he has been here for 4 years. He is a high-school student. He is 19 and graduating soon.
Another woman joins our conversation. "Which high-school are you going to?" "Wilson". She laughs and starts singing a song from there. She is also a Wilson graduate. So she wants to know: Does he like it here in America? "I'm used to it now" he answers with a shy smile. I imagine a tremendous culture gap, a struggle to adjust. He seems to be doing just fine. What about you? he asks me now, do you like it here? Again the same answer, delivered with a smile. "Yes I do. I love this country". He nods in agreement. "It is nice here, isn't it?"
The young kid gets a phone call, starts chatting in Spanish and then gets up, tells us "I don't have to take the bus anymore. Good luck!" and leaves.

The American woman from Wilson high-school is taken aback by our common declaration of love for our country of adoption. I guess it has to be that way. People born here don't always understand what makes this country so different and so attractive. But we know.


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