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Letter from a True American
November 17, 2001
1 o'clock in the afternoon playing blindfolded on the mattresses when the doorbell rings. He runs to jump in the shower and I force a dress over my head and stumble to the door. It's the census. I sit on the mattress while the lady asks me all kinds of unintelligible questions. I'm flattered for the attention; 'how old am I, do I have a television'. It feels like somebody might care. I float in the novelty, of me, a foreigner, being counted in the once a decade Argentine census. Suddenly my lover returns to the scene. The lady asks him to "censar." He waves a hand in my direction, "She is a TRUE AMERICAN: I'm ARGENTINE and I decline." Then he goes off: 87 million dollars to do the census. To count heads while heads are starving. So we are paying to count heads while heads are dropping off because we are spending all our money to count heads.
Later I ask him what he meant by TRUE AMERICAN. I shouldn't have asked. Up comes that fury that is always simmering just below the surface in every conversation, every kiss, every embrace. I told him yesterday I was going to conquer him, put up my flag, leave him begging for mercy with "venas abiertas," (open veins). Usually he laughs at such jokes, but after the latest structural adjustments, he told me it isn't funny.
He starts ranting again. How many children die each day, those criminals in oil and armaments, those relatively few deaths in the twin towers that the whole world is moaning about when innocent children are starving. On and ON and on. There is no end to the list of horrors going on NOW and Now and NOW. How can Americans sleep at night, when they are responsible for all of this, when there is virtual blood on every one of their hands.
I'm just huddled on the edge of the mattress in fetal position, syllables of Castillian floating through the air, disconnected, sound bites without meaning. I'm trying to put them together, fashion some kind of response; my ego is working furiously. Nothing nothing nothing.
Then I'm throwing myself across the room with flying pillows and blankets and English profanity. I hate this I hate this I hate this. I hate my country I hate this system, I hate being American, I hate this RESPONSIBILITY this guilt...I'VE ALWAYS HATED IT. I'm pounding my head against the springboard and screaming.
He grabs me, pins me down until I stop hurting myself. Finally I just sit there trembling. He's holding me and kind of looking at me differently. I look him in the eye. "What do you want me to do about it?" I plead, "What can I REALLY do?".
"Very good question," he says. Like now maybe I'm getting somewhere. "You know you should really think about that, but not for long. There really isn't that much time." I suddenly feel embarrassed by my tantrum. So like the little girl who doesn't want to clean her room, (my friends made the mess it wasn't me, why should I clean it up, blah, blah, blah).
"You don't have time to be a victim," he says.
I'm back there again. In that old puncture wound that never heals. Sometimes I forget about it but it's always there festering, pus and hemorrhage, below the surface. What must I do. I pass each day pushing my way down the streets, looking straight ahead, hand on my purse. Where am I going, what am I doing, Left, right, Red, green: cross the street before the onslaught of taxis and motorcycles plow me down. It's only at night when the images of the day crawl up into my consciousness. The street-children passed out from glue sniffing, every beggar I've passed by, the newspaper headlines: The war in Afghanistan, the debt, the World Bank and The IMF. I watched a robbery last night. Walking down the street and on the corner was a man holding a woman around the waist, punching her as she struggled in silence. We ran across the street through lurching oncoming traffic. Better to be run over than robbed as well. Safe on the other side, nothing to be done. We try to find a police officer but none to be found. A guardsman tells us that there is a police officer on that very corner all day every day. Where is he now when a woman is being robbed? It's no coincidence.
Impotence. Apathy. I want to smash my head against a wall. I want to go into a heladeria (ice-cream shop) and order every flavor of ice-cream and eat it all, all for me, until I'm so full that I burst and the colors spray all over the sidewalk for all to see. This is wealth. Sometimes I'm so full I vomit. Redistribution.
What am I doing here? What the hell am I doing here? How can I come here to do "research" while in my homeland the fat cats are carrying out terrorism against the whole world. This country is a river of gold, flowing past its people, down the drain, through the pipes, Northward bound, tinkle tinkle tinkle into the troughs of global financiers. Bombs are falling in Afghanistan somebody must do penance for the rebellious acts of one man who thought he could play the game. I don't know what is going on really. I buy a newspaper some days, it's expensive and doesn't really say what is happening, just the trappings, in rose coloured Castillian.
What must I do? I must make myself useful somehow. I must commit myself or my wound will just fester on. Better to rip it open and let it ooze in the fresh air.
Such privilege I have. I was born just miles from the Bill Gates estate, had food in my tummy and intelligent discourse at home. I went to school. I traveled. I was born in the richest country in the world, this is a responsibility in itself. The more power you have the more responsibility. Responsibility is your ability to respond. I don't have to struggle to fill my stomach and cover my head. I have time to read and travel and think. I must respond to more than just my daily circumstances: I am responsible for everything I know about the world.
Ignorance is bliss. Ignorance is impotence. Knowledge is power. Power is responsibility. I may want to crawl into my sleeping bag, say I have no money, no voice, I'm a woman, I'm a victim too.... This is all dodging the hard ball. You have to do what you can.
My biggest doubt sometimes is the end effect of my actions. Can I make any difference really. This is a question of those who desire impotence. Yes, strategy is important. But you can't sit and throw your hands up when innocent children are dying. You just have to make a difference. Because a difference HAS to be made.
What can I do now, this moment? So many possibilities. I want to be a contribution that's all. All anyone ever wants is to be part of the whole. I find myself in a painful contradiction. I came here because I want to contribute to others but I am so afraid of violence, of death in these streets that my ego takes over. Compassion is barely a flicker for me now as I live in fear thinking only of my own safety.
I want so much to talk to that man sleeping on the sidewalk, to give him a hug, take him home, bathe him, fill his stomach... but I can't. I'm scared of his dirty clothes, the smell of urine, the glazed look in his eyes. And what if I invite him into my world. His alienation has made him crazy, perhaps, violent. I could lose everything I have, end up raped or in a hundred slices in my bathtub.
I could commit myself to a life of bare subsistence. Give away 2/3 of my income, take care of all the beggars on my street. Live without fresh fruit, ice cream, the daily newspaper, Saturday night clubbing, the bottle of wine. Fine. So. What of the next street?
The only real potential is in changing the system. And I am an integral part of it. I am structurally privileged with an American passport, the right to vote for the government that wields power over billions of lives across the world. I'm here because I CAN. I can afford to be in University, can afford to be here doing my research on social money because I'm FAT. I don't have to worry about personal advancement. Yes, I will have to work for a living. Not in an ideal job either. I have to be part of a system of people cut off from the land from real useful work of any kind, staring at screens passing mega bytes. The other world has its back bent over, hands in the earth, growing my daily bread.
My head spins. What am I responsible for? Are the people of the US responsible for the actions of the US government? Is any government really the responsibility of its people? If it's democratic it is. But has there ever in the history of the world been a democratic government? It's a matter of degree, I guess.
How can US citizens be so apathetic to the suffering of the rest of the world? How can only 10,000 people march in NYC against the war in Afghanistan. What a sad, selfish, lot. Sometimes I think it's not their fault. Americans have no idea what their country is doing. They went to public school, memorized propaganda, and now spend each evening glued to the set, with spoon fed news. How can they know better?
Really though, I think they've sold out. Their apathy has been bought. They've traded in their voices for a relatively privileged existence. They keep their mouths shut, and they can have the car, the house, the television. Why would they possibly want to organize when they are doing so well in their own little cubicles. It's this alienation that allows this system. Americans don't know what is going on with each other much less across the world. And this 1st world/ 3rd world system keeps it all very veiled. Not much information passes between the two.
The first step is to know, the second step is to care, the third step is to act. And Americans don't know, don't care, and aren't doing anything.
So where does responsibility lie? It lies with those who know. Our politicians and corporate executives are responsible. An Iowa corn-farmer may not be. Ignorance frustrates me. Why don't we organize, change our government. I think of all the education this would take - the battle against major media corporations for people's minds. It's not so easy.
Probably the most important struggle is the struggle to communicate. To bridge this dearth of communication between first and third world citizens. We have to make our own connections, build friendships, alliances, communication channels, independent of governments and journalists. It's the structure of nation-states that separates us. It's the purpose of nation-states to separate us.
I have to struggle: to maintain compassion in my actions, and to change the system. And this must come not out of guilt and self-hatred but out of love and inner peace. Now I must work hard. Study, research, think, write. Learn all I can about this situation, about the possibilities within this Social Money movement. Make value of this opportunity I have. I must get up each morning, stretch my arms up to the sun, breathe in with joy. I'm alive. And then I must work my ass off. It's no good to sulk in my impotence. I have to exert where I have the power, and then feed my soul with song and dance.
The author, a 'True American", is a social sciences student currently doing a combination of practicum and research within the Social Money movement, invites you to join her in the daily struggle for social justice and personal sanity. email@example.com - no reply guaranteed