Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Day in America

This morning I headed to my German class with a red cardigan and a blue and white scarf for some understated American spirit. It's incredibly difficult living far away today. Not because I feel some dire urge to be standing on the Washington Mall with few toilets available (according to the news, if 2 million arrive, there is one porto potty for every 400 people). There are also freezing cold temperatures, and a very minimal view of anything other than the back of people's heads for hours on end. It's difficult because I truly miss the camaraderie. I'm certain I would be watching the events on TV, just as I will be today, but it doesn't make up for the American spirit that I dearly miss.

German spirit, and more specifically Bavarian pride, come in very different forms. There is the constant deferral of patriotism for reasons stemming from the dark past. If you spend enough time here you will soon see the pride is still alive and well. Some may even say it has ethnocentric tendencies, especially the foreigners who are constantly being reminded that they even though the law welcomes them, they will more than likely remain oppressed for several generations.

Something I truly love about America, 'the country that always lands on its feet', is that despite being a mix of cultures, nationalities, and races, there are some days and events where people unite. I realize it's not always been that way. Progress does take time, but it's nice to see that it happens.

I also realize not everyone is an Obama supporter, but to me the Americanness is something beyond him or his capabilities. I appreciate that he's a bit of a rabble-rouser and able to inspire so many, because I think Americans can be fairly passive when it comes to politics. It's also possible that it only appears that way considering how much coverage he had and how much money was invested into his campaign, but people definitely look for a positive change.

I'd rather see it as a fire lit from within and hopefully people see that they can make an impact and they are capable of more than they ever thought possible. There's a hope for something different and more freedoms for the people that make the US such a unique and special place.

I'm back in German class and it always shakes me to my core, but not because the grammar is brutal or because every noun has an assigned article. I think I learn more and question more about the social issues and struggles facing people from various cultures, nationalities, and races while I am there. I am constantly analyzing the place of a foreigner in the German world, obviously because that is something I identify with.

That is one aspect that my slightly sheltered American upbringing that I've really been able to come to terms with. Each day while I sit among classmates from places like Iran, Syria, Bulgaria, Australia, Spain, the UK, Kosovo, Brazil, Turkey, Russia, and a multitude of other cultures, I realize how fortunate I am. I am not fighting to survive. Life has been relatively easy and I know that I have two perfectly good homes. There isn't anything I am fleeing.

I realize just how blessed I am due to forces of fate, to feel safe, to have the support of my family, to receive a wonderful education and to have the ability to graduate from a university that focused on service work. It makes me feel very responsible for helping those that aren't afforded the privileges that I have.

Something Germany is severely lacking, is the inclusion of the foreigners. It's a much colder place than what I am familiar with. Here I notice so many politically incorrect things that make me cringe and an overall critical attitude towards each other. I attribute that to the fight to get ahead, or the feeling that they are being taken advantage of due to their liberal social systems. I realize in the US I have a slight bias. My social and economic circle doesn't often cross with people who don't come from similar means, which is one of the reasons I am forever grateful for this experience.

Life here can be so bureaucratic that even volunteering or being compassionate towards others isn't easy, which is difficult. Somedays I feel like I am fighting to belong and yearning for community and connections that are thousands of miles away. Here that is entirely a foreign concept. Since they had such far right leanings during the early part of the 20th century, at times I think they have tried to make amends by opening their borders even if they are resentful. I'm sure they get even more angered by the fact that Germans are not repopulating their country and fewer and fewer people are having children.

So... if you got this far, I'm hopeful that it is a year of change. Not simply for a change in politics, but a change in people realizing how much we can learn from each other and that a little compassion goes a long way.

As said in the Declaration of Independence 233 years ago:

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." 

3 comments:

gunnshow said...

You are so eloquent in how you explain things. I hope you don't mind if I share this post with my friends.

Emily said...

Lori...
I'm glad you found it eloquent, because I kind of felt like I was rattling on, but I'm glad that you can identify with similar feelings.

Election Day, Inaugurations, and the 4th of July aren't the same in any other part of the world. We kind of have to create our own magic!

JoernandAllison said...

I purposely wrote my entry before I read yours, just to make sure I didn't steal any of your wonderful ideas :)
Yesterday was such a moving day, for so many reasons!
It is something wonderful to be able to live abroad and to have a new light shed on being American. Unfortunately, I believe in Bavaria, ethnocentrism is stronger than in many other areas, although it is evident to some extent everywhere. I don't see that as much at home, but I come from a similar background as you, and am not sure how much I can speak to this at home.
Thanks for writing what you did, you did a beautiful job capturing the spirit of the day!