Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student
"America lives in the heart of every man everywhere who wishes to find a region where he will be free to work out his destiny as he chooses." This profound quote from Woodrow Wilson captures the thinking of many of us who at some time desired to come to this country. Americans and non-Americans hear of the grandeur of this country where opportunities and dreams are made real. America is a mosaic-diverse in people, hopes, and dreams. People from the eastern and western hemispheres, from equatorial regions, and from south and north dream about emigrating to the United States of America. To those who live in tyranny, America is the land of perfect democracy. To those who are hungry, America is the land of abundance. To those who suffer abuse and persecution for political reasons, America is the land of hope, peace and tranquility. To those who carry the yoke of injustice, exploitation and poverty, America is the land of fairness and solace. To children and young people who aspire to obtain excellent degrees, America is the land of education. To immigrants of all ages and cultures, including myself, America is the Promised Land, which is supposed to offer us a prosperous life. But upon arriving, do we feel accepted and welcomed? Are all our problems solved? Do we find the new Eden here? Perhaps some things turn out to be as we were expecting. But, for the most part, we find a sizzling cauldron where our identity is lost, where a non-defined culture confuses us, and where an egocentric and materialistic society absorbs us.
When we come to America seeking to fulfill a dream, we come fragile, vulnerable, and needy. We lose our identity because the influence of American civilization exerts powerful pressure over our former and personal cultural principles. Like newborns, we find ourselves submerged in a strange, vast, and immense world. At the beginning we focus on accomplishing our goal; then we realize that among the many dreams we are looking for, the most important one is to understand who we are and to whom we are relating.
But that quest is quite difficult to comprehend. We begin our adaptation process turning in all directions, trying to find models or patterns to follow. To our disappointment, the road goes in many directions. At home, our parents try to keep our own customs alive. In the streets we get different messages from our peers. In school we share with people from different backgrounds and cultures. The consumerist society flashes us with announcements everywhere, telling us to be somebody other than ourselves. We end up believing we need to adopt those false appearances to be accepted and to finally feel as if we belong. The younger generations anxiously begin to look for assurance, perhaps in what they wear, in drugs, and in gangs, among others. And then the moment comes when we wake up in darkness to find ourselves lost in that ocean of choices without knowledge of ourselves. We are neither from here, the new country, nor from there, the former one.
The question of who we are is closely related with the issue of culture. In America we do not find a culture that helps us to shape our social, ethical, and sacred values. It is easy to think that in the melting pot of American society all the cultures harmoniously relate and associate. We imagine that each of the ingredients for the special recipe mixes in the pot without losing its proper characteristics, contributing flavor, smell, color, spice and texture to the whole dish, but the struggle for survival and dominance does not permit such compatible relationships. We come to America marked by our own traditions and customs. We come from homogenous countries, where one culture prevails. However, here, in the United States, there is no one tradition that can unite all of us. When we celebrate New Year's Holiday in Colombia, for example, all business and activities in the nation come to a halt, because we all focus our attention on that particular holiday. The holiday involves at least three days of celebration. We grow up celebrating different feasts and recalling different traditions that shape our cultural identity. In the sizzling cauldron of America, all that beautiful sacredness of our former traditions dies to give way to celebrations that merely emphasize material aspects.
Christmas is a season when the shopping malls are beautifully decorated to attract people to spend money. Halloween is a time to buy expensive costumes. Valentine's Day is a particular occasion to buy a gift for our significant other. Mother's Day is an opportunity to give things to our mothers. And, of course, there are birthdays. I have a friend who always gives more than one present to his son for his birthday. Last year, because of some economic crisis at his home, the best he could do was to accompany his son to his soccer game and to take him to his favorite restaurant. After the event, my friend shared with me his disillusion. He told me his son did not feel happy because he was expecting to receive some material presents. When the culture in which we live does not instill in us the appreciation of our traditions and our families as a central nucleus in society, we get confused and disoriented.
Another aspect that makes America a sizzling cauldron is the egocentrism and materialism so evident in the philosophy of life in this country. Success is measured merely by material achievements. Most of us come from countries with more economic limitations, where access to material things is more difficult. Consequently, we develop a deeper sense of community, and we focus more on simple ways to celebrate life. In America, the primary goal of many is to drive an expensive car and to buy a four-bedroom house with a big yard and a swimming pool. To have the most sophisticated cell phone and the most modern laptop is crucial to others. To wear the most fashionable clothes and coolest tennis shoes seems essential for young people.
To be able to compete and fill the demands created by this economic system, we became slaves of work; consequently, we do not have time to socialize and to strengthen our bonds with each other. The spacious house with a big yard and swimming pool becomes a hotel where we occasionally rest, many times ignoring others who live with us. We can live in a neighborhood for many years without knowing who is living next door. We desperately try to alleviate our lack of relationships by possessing things, even beautiful and exotic pets. Young people try to find in gangs the support and the affection that should have been provided in their homes. We are captivated by the comforts of this society and become intoxicated faithful followers of capitalism.
The first longing we had for a better and more humane life becomes opaque or obscured. Slowly, we are absorbed by the gigantic system that praises material things over the person. The consequence of this is the immense loneliness in which people live today. When we feel that we do not belong, without any culture that reaffirms our aspirations, we are living in a society where chaos and confusion prevail. This type of civilization is not the one we dreamed about when we thought of coming to this country. Surely, many immigrants have found in America the Promised Land that has embraced them and that has offered them solace and a prosperous life. However, many other immigrants have not felt welcomed. For many, America is not the melting pot where identity and our culture are preserved, but the sizzling cauldron where aspirations and dreams are boiled away. Not only were our dreams not fulfilled in coming to America, but also, ironically, our identity and culture have vanished in the country of the Promises.