Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The American Perspective

In The Voyage Out, Hewet was having a conversation with Rachel in Chapter 16, and one of the things that he said really stood out to me:
"...this curious silent unrepresented life. Of course we're always writing about women-abusing them, or jeering at them, or worshipping them; but it's never come from the women knows nothing whatsoever about them. They won't tell you. Either they're afraid, or they've got a way of treating men. It's the man's view that is represented, you see."
To me, this quote describes a situation that is not only a feminist occurrence, but a national one as well. It often seems that living in the United States means being self-contained and ignoring the other countries that live around the world.

Last year, I took Urbanism to fulfill the Visual Art requirement of Fordham's core. The way the course works, we had to choose a city that has a problem, and explore the city by looking at maps and seeing the patterns that arise. The course culminates in a final presentation where we had to present our final findings to the class. I chose to study Hiroshima. The first thing that comes to your mind is the atom bomb, right? It was extremely difficult for me to find out almost anything else about the city, because Americans are obsessed with World War II history. Almost no one brings up how quickly Hiroshima cleaned up (within the five years after the bomb), or how today there is no indication that the city was ever bombed except for a memorial in the center of the city. When it is Americans talking about Hiroshima, we are usually referring to our involvement in Hiroshima's history, which brings up images of mushroom clouds and wreckage. Since that is what we request to see, that is what is shown to us. We are not shown the city that Hiroshima has become today.

This phenomena is not limited to an academic sphere though. Over winter break, I went to Quito, Ecuador. It's a modern city in a South American country. It was my first time out of the continent, so I didn't know what to expect. It surprised me to see, despite knowing that I was in a modern city, a mall within sight of the place where I was staying with my GO! team. To me, a mall seems to be distinctly a phenomena from the United States. We ended up going inside it because there was a day there where the place we were staying did not provide the meals. Looking around inside, with the exception that there were phrases in Spanish, it could have been a mall from the United States. The only feature that was distinctly Ecuadorian was a huge window that capitalized on the beautiful view of the Andes mountains around us (malls in the United States don't have windows to the outside). Despite this, the mall was just as much a part of Ecuador as any other more "traditional" site. It just showed a reality of Ecuador trying to be like the United States. And why not? Quito is the capital city of Ecuador: it's more likely to get American tourists who will spend their money at a mall without giving it a second thought. And if it will bring the business, why not build a mall?

When I think about the mentality in which American-born people are taught to think about the United States, in that we are (or at the very least should be) the best country on Earth, and that we are the major hub for immigration because we're the modern promised land, I wonder if other countries only let us walk around with bloated heads because of our military power and money. Is it only for our money that other countries put up with us visiting them without knowing a word of their language, assuming that someone knows English? Do we, as Americans, by proclaiming that we're the best country, see other countries as less civilized without ever having visited them? Like how Hewet wonders about females yet will never be fully able to under their perspective, I'm afraid that I will never be able to understand the viewpoint of people who are from other countries because I have the American perspective.

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