Before I go any further, I think it is necessary to state that, like always, my blog does not reflect the thoughts, ideas or opinions of the United States Peace Corps or the U.S government (obviously) in any way. Proceed with this in mind. It only feels applicable that I should be writing this on Human Rights Day, as so many of these rights are being violated around the world on a daily basis. Here is to hoping for a more peaceful 2016.
Many people here in Namibia mention something being in [brackets] if they are not sure what to think about it or if they are spending time trying to figure out the sometimes complicated details of people, the government or those life questions that we all ponder. I have recently been pondering my own life questions, including the nationality that I claim and the country that I spent 24 years of my life residing in. Those who know me understand that I have never been much of a patriotic person. There is a lot about the United States and the government that I struggle to understand and much of the extreme pride that people seem to feel in an extremely egotistical way has always been off-putting to me. I struggle with the fact that despite many of the mass shootings and homicidal rampages being perpetrated by young, white males, the blame and outrage is consistently targeted at those of color and those of a non-Christian background. It is easy to blame mental illness or whatever the easiest targeted characteristic of the shooter is, and much easier still to simply state that “if all Muslims left the U.S, we would be much safer” despite their legal status and being just as American as any other individual born with the rights of freedom. It is much more difficult to understand the persecution someone has experienced at the hands of those who were supposed to take them in and show them what it meant to be a truly diverse nation of people. It is maddening to see the recent San Bernardino shootings labeled a terrorist attack but the shootings at Planned Parenthood in Colorado will be deemed as a mad man who was just too passionate about his beliefs. What would be said if Muslim protestors stood outside of a Catholic church armed with shotguns and hateful words? The “American freedoms” we are so happy to throw around like the prize in a kid’s party goodie bag only apply to those who are in power with the majority – everyone else must bend to the mold in order to escape persecution.
Even still, coming to Namibia, I gained a sense of beauty and, for probably the first time in my life, a realization that I was proud of where I come from. For most people I have met here, getting to America is one of their most talked about dreams and aspirations. They would speak of the United States as if it was heaven on Earth, discussing how the U.S is open to everyone and the freedom that has been pervasive since colonization is something they could only imagine. They would speak of how a strong, intelligent and human rights oriented African-American fought his way to become the President and how accepting the U.S must be to finally be allowing diversity from the middle aged white male that they have been consistently taught about in schools. Some would speak of the open-mindedness when it comes to LGBT laws and religious freedoms that anyone can practice their own beliefs without being chastised or made to feel inferior. The most prevalent topic that comes up when I speak to Namibians about America is its freedom and its acceptance of those who seek refuge. We talk about how European settlers, putting aside their hideous genocide of the Native Americans for a few moments, sought freedom on the soils of the “new world” and found sanctuary from the oppression that they felt in their home land. We talk about some of my pictures I show them of my previous home that have people of all colors in them and they ask if people only hang out with others of their same skin tone in the U.S like many people do here. We talk about how everyone has the chance to become successful in a place like America because everyone is given an “equal chance” to make something of themselves, despite where they came from or where they grew up (excluding socioeconomic disparities and all of the other issues that the poverty cycle and institutionalized racism has on this theory) – the American dream.
Now, I do not know what to tell my friends and co-workers when they ask what is so great about Donald Trump that many people seem to want him for the next president. I do not know what to tell them when they ask why a nation of proclaimed freedom and acceptance is up in arms (in actuality) about allowing refugees into its country of abundance and allowing them the chance at a life where they and their families are protected for once. (( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/irving-texas-armed-mosque-protest_5651eddfe4b0d4093a581d14 )) Now, I do not know what to tell them about the country that I was raised in. I do not know how to tell someone who has never visited, and probably never will, that I am ashamed of so many of “my people” (as they call them) who are so caught up in a hatred that they are unable to understand how horrifically they are behaving towards other human beings. Now, I do not know how to explain my immense sadness and disappointment in my own country when they ask if they would be allowed to come to America if a war was to break out here in Namibia, and they were not Christian. I do not know how to reconcile my feelings of anger towards those whose families came to the U.S through Ellis Island to escape persecution and have the audacity to say that anyone does not have the right to make a better life for themselves, simply because they do not ascribe themselves to the same religious doctrine.
The only thing that I do know if that I fear for the future of an important country who has exponential influence on the rest of the world and the political decisions that are being made in light of the horrors that seem to be occurring on a daily basis. Everyone is watching the United States make its choices about the ways that we will be viewed and the ways that we usher in radical change or stagnant perpetuation of racism, fear and misunderstanding. I hope that soon, acceptance will outshine the disgracefulness that I have witnessed from afar from so many who claim that precautionary measures trump safety for human beings like themselves and a severe violation of human rights. I hope that I will be able to confirm with others who do not know what freedom is, that the United States is founded upon it and its many evolutions and has continued to uphold these values for all who come to its door. I hope that, one day, I will be able to feel the way I did when I first arrived in Namibia: proud to be serving my country in a way that finally felt like it resonated with the way I wanted to live my life and my humanistic ideals; proud to be representing a strong nation where it is a self-proclaimed melting pot of people and cultures; proud to say “yes, I come from the United States and we thrive on diversity; proud to be an American.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
– Emma Lazarus