Monday, November 30, 2015

"What do you think of Americans?"

Photograph by Carol Gagliardi
The question I ask every time I get to know someone enough in a foreign country. Of course, it is hard not to get a biased answer, as they know that I am myself, American. But the answer always seems to follow along the same lines.

I think that travelling abroad is something that a lot of people associate with the rich. Because they are the ones with the money to travel. This foreign exchange program that I'm part of, is not for rich kids. The cost of the trip was only the plane ticket. In fact, most of the students on this exchange are not upper middle class.

Italians, (foreigners in general,) have this idea of, "Americans," that isn't truly accurate. The idea that they have in their heads, (tall, blonde, affluent,) is not in fact an image of an American but rather that of your average rich person. For them, rich and American are synonymous. It is not their fault however that they have this idea, the media feeds them a dreamy image of bourgeoisie America and nothing else. I mean, here and there they'll see a minority or two, a prole, or a working class hero in a movie but primarily, these people are not given the spotlight. The respondents of this question are not being lied to necessarily, but the truth is being hidden from them. Therefore, it is easy for them to assume that all Americans are like the ones they have seen in the media. They are left to conclude that this image is all that we are, when in reality, it is only a very small portion.

Out of the 13 American students on this exchange, only one fits the tall, blonde and rich image. 1 out of 13. Anytime that 1 represents 13, there is a disproportionality. Why is it that this one, (the minority,) represents the other twelve, (the majority.) It is not only numerically wrong to represent the whole group by the minority, but it is blind and ignorant to do so. In describing this case, "numerically wrong," is an understatement.

If we have given anything to these Italians on the foreign exchange trip, brought anything to them, more than the American-English slang and pop songs, it is the hard truth of who were really are. We are dark skinned, we are brown eyed, we come in all sizes. For the most part, we are not rich. We are not MLB players or movie stars.

We bring you our dark faces and rough hands and this is more than any education anyone could ever give you on the America of today. We are the "Stories Hollywood Never Tells." We are the ones who are asked,
"You're American? All American? And nothing else...?"
"No, I mean really...where are you really from?"
"American...? Are you sure?"
We are the ones who are asked if we are "sure," of who we are. Because of course there is always someone richer, blonder, who knows better than us, who can confirm our citizenship.

We are the tired. We are the poor. We are the huddled masses "yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of the teaming shore." And if there is in fact a poor and dirty, but tall and blonde boy in America, he is not American for his white skin. He is American because someone sometime in his family scaled the highest of mountains to arrive at the pedestal of lady liberty who lifts her lamp beside the golden door.

We are all American and everything else.

No comments:

Post a Comment