For the US at least, Independence Day. Yeee Ha. In Yakima, the city holds a day-long fair entitled 'One World, One Valley, One Nation' at the fair grounds, followed by the standard send up of fireworks to the sound of classic American tunes like 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun.' All in all, this year was a passionate display that connected the pride people feel for our great nation with the awesomeness of loud noise and gigantic visual displays of pyromancy. In other words, probably not THAT much different from people in Iraq and Afghanistan's impression of America, though much safer.
This fourth of July was different for me because I experienced the normal run of picnics, BBQs, and family outings with eight months spent on PacRim running through my head. Echoes of our class on Nationalism, the way Japan deals with holidays, and my own questions about reemerging into American culture followed me as the day progressed. Though the period of marveling over warm showers and being overwhelmed in supermarkets is over, subtle curiosities continue to come out in the midst of my rural hometown. Witnessing a holiday that celebrates the unity of our community and nation in particular brought curious contrasts to my mind.
Before returning to America, we were often told that the lack of attention we received upon returning would bother us. At the time, I took it to mean that we would have to grow accustomed to no longer being the immediate source of entertainment at any social gathering, or receiving stares when walking down the street. Not particularly fond of constantly being in the public eye myself, I thought this transition would come naturally, but I was also a little shocked by the pervasiveness of this 'not knowing.' Out here in the quasi-suburban hinterlands, there is no guarantee that members of a community have to interact at all with the people they live around and with. Stuck in our need for personal privacy, some of the more human aspects and perspectives of living with people can be lost.
Personally, I blame cars and urban developers. While many older cities were built for people whose only option was to walk, or prance (ok, take a horse) to work, Yakima has massive blocks of houses that stretch for miles upon miles. It's not a big deal, because cars can get us to just about wherever we want. This freedom to define the people we interact with, bought with our ability to pay for gas, technology, and upscale housing, gives us an interesting choice, but unfortunately not one that always plays towards the kinder aspects of human nature.
In Yakima at least, people often utilize this power to choose their social groups based upon similarities of thought, religion, and proclivity for certain activities. Maybe this is an issue with all modern, capitalist countries (as I seem to remember even more outrageous trends in Japan as well), but in America I can observe first-hand conservative and liberal peers who proclaim ideological rhetoric with little regard for understanding alternative perspectives or critically questioning their own beliefs. It is a little ironic to me that at UPS, students were sometimes accused of being unable to stand up for particular beliefs (while those with firm beliefs were sometimes criticized or afraid to speak out), while out in rural America the problem is the exact opposite - it is so easy to surround yourself with people who think similarly that having an opinion is far more important than being able to explain to other people or yourself why the opinion is valid.
During our travels we never visited a Utopian community that put all off these issues to rest. However, PacRim itself is a perfect example of a program that provides an opportunity to overcome this cultural proclivity for similarity that many people seem to consider basic human nature. One unifying trait of all my fellow Pac Rimmers (including the veterans who traveled with us) was an appreciation for diversity that acknowledged the vibrancy granted to our community by acknowledging, discussing, and appreciating our differences. The adventure did not end when we returned home, and so I still seek out this kind of person in my daily life. On our nation's birthday, this is the vision of 'One World, One Valley, One Nation' that I hope to embrace.
(Article by Safa)
08-09 Blog >