Dear America, Stop Complaining. Also, I Love You.

You don’t know what you don’t know yet. And sometimes you don’t know what you have until it’s missing.

          I used to talk a looooooot of shit about the US. If any of my close friends are reading this, I’m sure you noticed a slight increase in my shit talking the first time I came back from Peru. I felt really fed up with lots of the fallacies that make up our consumer, capitalist society, and it made me not want to live here. But what I was actually doing, to be honest, was feeling sorry for myself. I couldn’t look at what I had and be grateful, because I was too bothered by the fact that I had things that other people didn’t. And I couldn’t actually do anything to help myself or anyone else, because I was too busy being obsessed with my own emotions. Do you think you ever do this?

vieja vending on the street.jpg

          I’m going to let you in on a little something I learned, and it might sting a bit at first. If you have the time and emotional space in your mind to really dissect how society’s issues are making you feel, you are a privileged human being. Do you know why not everyone is bogged down about the same things as you? Because lots of people are working 20 hours or more a day, sometimes with little children on their backs, at their sides, or maybe in their arms, in unsafe conditions, for less than $2/hour, and instead of having an existential crisis, they’re wondering if they’ll have enough money to feed themselves and their children today. If you’re reading this right now, and hell, if you even know what a blog is, you probably aren’t one of those people, so right on! Already something to be grateful for.

          Let’s add more stuff to that list. Over the years, I’ve developed a strong gratitude for certain privileges that the United States has to offer, after seeing first hand that these privileges don’t exist in most other areas of the world where I have lived and traveled. I thought that sharing these points may help us to remember that even when times are rough, we can’t take the good things for granted. So here’s a few:

1.       We have access to FREE and QUALITY education, sports, and extracurriculars.

auditorium.jpg

I recently went with my little cousin to her high school registration, which happens to be the same public high school that I attended. While she was signing up for classes, my husband and I walked around the school and I showed him the huge choir room where I spent lots of time rehearsing, the gym where I used to have cheerleading practice, the art and photography students’ artwork hung on the walls, the pool…the list goes on and on. All I could think about the whole time was damn, I had SO many opportunities growing up, and I didn’t even realize it. The opportunity to learn to sing, to play an instrument, photography, art, cooking, acting, all the sports, all the extracurriculars and clubs, and all FREE PUBLIC EDUCATION. I realize that educational systems in the US have a looooong way to go, and that not all public schools are the same as mine was, but man, it could be a whole lot worse. Peru has some of the worst educational programs in the world, and generally speaking, to even come close to the quality that we are able to find in many public schools here in the US, you would have to be paying at least $10,000 USD a year to enroll your kid. Notice how I said, “come close,” as in, I have visited some of these expensive private high schools in Lima, and they really are not as great as my free high school education was. I have also visited universities whose facilities, I would argue, were also not as great as those of my average public high school. You see where I’m going with this.

2.       Yes, we may not always be safe. But we are safer than many.

locked door.jpg

Donald Trump is president. Things aren’t great politically. Maybe we don’t feel as protected by or cared for by our government. This also could be a lot worse. It is undeniable that we have many tragic events in our country’s past, and unfortunately, our country’s present. There are acts of hate that make us really question whether or not we are evolving as a human race. A great example is queer actor Jussie Smollett’s attack that sure seems to have been a hate crime. I couldn’t help but think about my LGTBQ friends and whether or not they should or do feel safe being who they are in the US. Then I started thinking about LGTBQ communities in Peru, and honestly, my first thought was, well shit, it’s way safer here in the US than it is there. Just from my own experiences being a white woman in Peru and being sexually harassed literally every day that I ever left my house (all women in Peru experience this, but unfortunately my unusual skin and hair color drew extra attention most of the time), and knowing Peruvian men and (most of) their machista, aggressive masculine beliefs, I have a pretty good idea of how LGTBQ people are treated in Peru. I started reading about it online, and found that 4 out of 5 transgender murders happen in Latin America. In this interview article on the situation in Lima, (https://roadsandkingdoms.com/2018/light-inside-qa-danielle-villasana/), which is a short but profound read that I recommend, there is a picture of a transgender woman in the hospital who was shot by police officers in Lima. She was actually being assaulted by the police officers, and when her friend threw a rock at their car to stop them, she tried to run away and was shot in the stomach. When I read that caption, one of my first thoughts, after feeling sick to my stomach, was, tragically, “that doesn’t surprise me at all.” I know firsthand that Lima is not a safe place for women, and in fact, it’s ranked one of the top 5 most dangerous cities in the world for women to live. Unfortunately, I also know firsthand that corruption in Peru extends from its politicians all the way to its police officers, doctors, lawyers, and other figures that should instead be protecting their people. Is this also an issue in the US? Yes. But does it exist to the extent that it does currently in Peru or other countries in Latin America? Honestly, I don’t think it does. If you’re not convinced, take a few minutes to google what’s been going on in Venezuela or Nicaragua lately, and maybe your idea of safety and stability will evolve.

In the US, we become very focused on the horrible things that we hear about on the news or on social media, and I don’t want to dismiss or reduce the gravity of these things. But we may not be realizing that in general (there are definitely exceptions to this, like school shootings, for example), similar things are happening even larger scale in other parts of the world. We just aren’t hearing about it. So here’s when we get this opportunity to flip the perspective, and instead of saying, wow, this country is messed up, we might think, we’ve had a lot of progress up until this point, and as a whole, we’re moving forward. Let’s keep that momentum and do everything we can to reduce hate and spread love.  

3.       General standard of living in America provides a pretty high quality of life.

In America, you can work a minimum wage job and still own a car, own a house, have functioning appliances, eat until you’re full. You can be considered “poor,” but live in a neighborhood where you feel so safe that you leave your front door open all day long. In Peru, minimum wage is less than $2/hour. A decent monthly salary is around $300 USD. And you might think, well yeah, but isn’t everything cheaper there? And the answer, is, actually, not really. Outside of Lima and other bigger cities (which aren’t many), rent might be half what you pay in Lima, and you save a lot of money shopping local produce at big outdoor markets, but the problem is, there are no jobs. And if there are, they don’t pay as much. So, unless you have an overseas salary, it’s really challenging just to get by paying your bills and feeding yourself and your family. The wealthier/safer/more touristy areas of Lima are extremely expensive, as in, over a million dollars to own a nice house or apartment, and at least $1,000 USD in average monthly rent. Anywhere on the outskirts of Lima, those costs might be cut in half, but that means living in a dangerous neighborhood with more crime and even more noise, water, and air pollution than the rest of the city.

man in shanty town.jpg

   I realize that each one of these points is a very complex issue and a discussion on each could fill pages and pages. The point is to look at national issues with a global mind and a grateful heart. If there’s one thing we don’t need more of in this world, it’s negativity. Sometimes stepping outside of ourselves, our families, and even our countries, allows us a fresh perspective and appreciation for what we do have, rather than frustration over what we don’t.  

          Lastly, I hope this blog doesn’t sound like it’s hating on Peru or Latin America. Truly, I could write a similar blog from the opposite perspective where I talk about things that Peru is doing way better (actually maybe I should do that) … I’m just trying to use counterexamples to give you some reasons to replace your negative thoughts about your country and your situation, whatever that situation may be, with positive thoughts and gratitude. I know it’s a process and some days are better than others, but this is something that has really helped me thrive as a global citizen and a light warrior, so I hope that it will help you too.

          As always, comments and feedback are welcomed and appreciated. Check back next week for the last blog in this series, where I talk more about seeing the US through a fresh lens, and list some of my newfound favorite things to do in America.

Much love,

Shelby


Shelby O'Brien