It seems all too obvious that living in another country would, or should, increase our awareness of the world; but I was not prepared for how much it would open my eyes not just about the rest of the world, but about life back at home as well.
Granted, it may just be that life in today’s America affords the luxury of living largely without considering the rest of the world. That’s not good in my opinion. But right or wrong it simply is the way of things. There’s enough going on in America (good, bad, and ugly), that keeping up with it is a full time job. And Americans often have “no need” (or don’t see one) to look elsewhere. Their economy doesn’t hinge on the arrival of refugees in Budapest, or an election in Bogotá.
But after moving to Dublin five years ago one of the things I’m still regularly amazed by is just how little many Americans know about the rest of the world compared to how much the rest of the world closely follows and watches America. And, Americans, before you puff your chest out and get all, “that’s how it should be”, I don’t mean it as a good thing.
Because America’s political and economic machinations greatly affect the economics and policies in the rest of the world, people from other countries follow American elections closely, and have definite (often well-informed, even nuanced) opinions. I’m not just talking about stockbrokers and policy wonks. I’m referring to housewives, bartenders, cabbies, college students, high school students, and people of all religious, ethnic, and social backgrounds. Not so in America about Ireland, or most anywhere else that hasn’t been on CNN or Fox News lately.
In the same way that the rest of the world becomes consumed with “will it be Obama or Romney”, or, “Bernie/Hillary against the hairpiece”, America gets swallowed by its own concerns. Grappling with a union of 50 states, and trying to mesh 300+ million thoughts, ideas, and sets of priorities into one cohesive direction for the future is a laughable concept, and a maddeningly dangerous and all-consuming process that sucks the oxygen out of society. And, just as we’re seeing the stitches splitting on the EU thanks to Brexit, I think we are also seeing the casing come off the sausage of America.
But I also think once every generation complex social structures have to ask themselves the really tough questions about what they stand for, and what they believe. It’s ugly, but it’s right, proper, and necessary. It’s dangerous, but it must be done to remind us of what’s at stake. But I also think the way it’s done is changing, and that may be part of the problem.
Where once these internal examinations were just that, internal, they’ve become public spectacles on Instagram, Facebook, and what’s left of, “the media”. And with an increasingly mobile population (in the form of immigrants, refugees, and travelers), we often confront these problems on more than one front. We can simultaneously be pissed off about the state of politics and race relations back at home, while deeply affected on a daily basis by Brexit and the lemming-like status of the EU. We may have friends (made through business, on vacation or online in Egypt or Syria, or another of the world’s, “hotspots”. Those connections and our instant access to “poorly”, or worse, “partially” curated, “news” make it all too easy for us to have stakes in many places.
Now, living in a smaller country that tends to be much more politically aware, I’m a bit mortified to see that many Americans (including myself when I lived there) tend to be mostly unaware of the rest of the world. It’s something that I think should be actively railed against (through travel and cultural exchange); but having moved away, I now understand that it comes from a place of privilege. It’s that way because it can be. America has a lot to offer. Yet one of the downsides is that it’s so big (and has so much) that it also offers the luxury of not having to look outside of itself.
As immigrants, particularly if we live in a small country, we tend to be hyper-aware of world politics because we have to be. With regard to their new home and their old home, immigrants, of necessity, tend to be fairly aware folks. But, I think we are also treated to a view of home that nobody but someone in our situation can possibly understand.
As immigrants we are no longer simply/cleanly/clearly “from” anywhere, and we may never fully assimilate into the culture where we live. As a result, being neither “from” nor “of” any one place, we have twin views as outsiders, and slightly skewed insider perspectives on two places. And that can be both good and bad.
The world is changing quickly, and as active and engaged parts of the new mobile diaspora, immigrants have both the privilege and the burden of multiple perspectives. We have a lot that we care about, and a lot to worry us.
Dublin, July 2016
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
Hobbies and Activities: Reinventing Yourself By Engaging With Your New Home