American Abroad

My future split between two countries after Peru – Colombia or Argentina. I chose Argentina. But the idea of going to Columbia confused and frightened my students, friends and family. “Isn’t it super dangerous? Aren’t there a lot of drugs? Haven’t you seen the Netflix Original series Narcos?” Down here, it’s known as a vibrant and growing community, a beautiful culture worth seeing. Around the world, Columbia is fighting against it’s blood stained, 30 year old past. I’ve seen Colombians, with a sad exhaustion, explain their country is more than it’s old problems.

As an American, there are three things people consistently ask me before going to the States. And every single time, they break my heart with that same exhaustion.

“How do I avoid being shot?”
“Will the police hurt me?”
“Will your country take care of me if I am hurt?”

They’re always polite people; they follow each with apologies. But they’re frightened. Europeans ask as often as Latin Americans, my students in Japan and my students in China. I listen to their reasoning, watch the videos they’ve seen, hear the things they will avoid because of those fears.

And I sit and tell them as I told the last, “No! The States are a great place, nobody will shoot you. We, as a people, will take care of you. Do not worry. Please feel safe and welcomed in my country.” I explain the perspective I grew up with. That people mainly have guns for self defense, that they’re in the constitution, that there is a second side with reason.

But then weeks like this happen. Weeks that start with a shooting at a garlic festival for Christ’s sake, and end with what appears to be a hate crime at a Walmart in El Paso. I feel myself brush it off as the new normal from thousands of miles away. But I’ll be asked about it. I’ll try and make them feel like the US is a safe place. I’ll tell them to avoid dangerous areas. But where won’t a shooting happen now? This is not a political point. This is an intensely difficult question of American culture. The twitchy muscle memory of political talking points, policing, donations and prepared hospital staff don’t seem to be enough. Because with under a minute in active police response time, blood pouring into hospitals as fast as their shooting response personnel, with everything working perfectly, nine people died in Ohio.

I’m curious what I’ll say when this isn’t a problem, what we will say when our kids read about this period. Is the solution something we haven’t discovered yet? Or is it in front of us now and we simply haven’t taken action?

Please donate to one of the three mass shooting funds from this past week and prove American’s take care of each other. Thank you to the police and medical personnel for doing their best in these situations. I encourage you to preemptively listen to a talk by Malcolm Gladwell on school shootings.

El Paso Donation: here.
Ohio Info + Donation here.
Gilroy Garlic Festival here.

– Alejandro

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