MJ Live

Friday, November 18, 2005

Explaining America (Written Nov 6 2005)

There have been few times in my life that I've felt really patriotic. One time was when I heard Lillian Garcia sing the national anthem after the 9/11 attacks (that was the first time I had heard the anthem after the attacks); the next happened every Red, White and Blue Day at Camp Ozark (where I was reminded that "freedom is never free"); another occurred as I sat in front of Mt. Rushmore at night with my dad as my grandfather (who served in WWII) retired the flag at the park. But the most recent patriotic moment occurred when I showed my family a map of the United States. Up until now they had only heard about America through the television but had no idea how big America was. Most Samoans know where California and Hawaii are because there's a large Samoan population there but they know little to nothing about the other 48 states. The sense of wonder and amazement in their eyes as they looked at a country where it takes about two days to get across (whereas in Samoa it takes about 2 or 3 hours on both islands) reminded me how great and wondrous my own country is. It also made me glad I took that road trip across America before I came here so I could convey how big our country is. I also tried to make it clear that every state (except maybe Rhode Island) is larger then Samoa. Not to rub it in, but just to say that America is larger then they imagined. Also on the map I gave to them I wrote from which state all 14 trainees come from – again to show that PC volunteers come from all over America but we're all Americans. In case you're curious, here are the trainees and which states they come from:

Marques – Tennessee

Bryan – Texas (he went to the other UT)

Candice – Texas

Sara – Colorado

Josh – Minnesota

Holly – Massachusetts

Bob – Massachusetts

Julya – Washington

Ryan – Iowa

John – Arkansas

Charles – North Carolina

Andrew – California

Mari – California

Diana – Washington

We're from all over! I also showed them where I went to school (the real UT in Knoxville) and they asked how I got from Nashville to Knoxville. That was fun trying to explain interstates/highways to people who live in a country with one road the whole way around. They also asked if Washington, D.C. was the main city of America like Apia is in Samoa. Nope, we have many main cities. They kept asking where things were in America such as the WWE (Connecticut), Boxing (Las Vegas) and Hollywood (Los Angeles). I also showed them where the 9/11 attacks took place and that just reminded me how little some third world countries may know about America. To the average American, NYC is one of the most unforgettable cities in the world – to may family in Samoa, its just words on the TV in a country they may never visit. I also showed them where Hurricane Katrina hit and how it got there – again, to them its just a name not really a place. When I told them that America was made up of 50 states, I got quite a few surprised looks – I guess the rest of the world doesn't study America that much in geography. So tonight was a good night of sharing the American landscape with my Samoan family – I think they have a better understanding of America now because of a simple map. I, as an American, take the enormity of my country for granted but its moments like these that remind me how special America is and how misunderstood it can be in the worlds eye if they don't realize the variety within this one country. Unlike Samoa, where everyone looks somewhat similar that definitely does not hold true in America. It takes nights like these and Americans like Candice (Korean-American) and myself (African-American) to teach the rest of the world that not all Americans are similar in look nor culture. Many states, many languages and many cultures inside one country – that's America. It was also a treat for me because I got to look at my home and the many states where I have family and friends. One of the goals of PC is to share parts of the American culture with the host country nationals, to allow a better understanding of America – mission accomplished with my family. Now onto the rest of the country!

As a side note, I think it would be a good idea to send a map of the US inside any package sent to use trainees because it gives us opportunities to have more of these experiences and we can put them on the wall in our homes to remind us of home. Also, atunu'u (ah tay new ew) means country; setete (sah tate a) means state and nu'u (new ew) means village/city. So if any Samoan ever ask you "O fea 'e te sau ai?" [Where do you come from?] you say "Out e sau mai le atunu'u of 'Amerika." [I come from the country of America.]


1 comment:

islandtraveller said...

mj, yes its true many third world residents are not aware of the US but you forgot to mention that many americans do not know about us third world residents, as a matter of fack some dont even know the third world exists. i think americas ignorance in the face of modern technology, a good education system, opportunities to learn and travel and resources for knowledge outweighs any ignorance we samoans have about america, after all your host family does not have the internet, are probably not fluent in english and rely on samoas poor education system as well as SBC tv for all their information which we know is not all its cracked up to be.

when writing think of the other side of the story!