August 24, 2009

Where in the world should I live?

There are a lot of things about the United States I don’t like. I am not in favor of the war. I don’t like the fact that people in the US think it is okay to use all of the world’s resources. I detest the fact that people in the US live in big houses, drive big cars, and eat outrageously big meals while others are deprived of these things. Perhaps I dislike most the widespread idea that people in the US deserve all of these things because of their hard work. As if people in poor countries don’t work hard.

Despite my misgivings about the US, I have decided to make my life there. For the most part, at least. Today, I was with a group of people who work for the United Nations who have lived all over the world. A Uruguayan man asked my husband, Fernando, how he likes the US. Nando said it has its ups and downs.

Feeling inclined to contribute, I pointed out that, although, there are things I dislike about the US, I also see it as our best option. I love a lot of things about Latin America. I enjoy the spirit of conviviality and friendliness, and the more open nature of society. However, I have a hard time dealing with the extreme inequality.

As I see it, if I were to live in Peru, for example, in order to have a decent living, I would have to work somewhere like the United Nations or USAID. The salaries of university professors are pitiful, and would never be enough for me to be able to visit my family in the US or to travel abroad. At the UN, however, I could have a decent salary. But, a job such as this would mean living in an elite neighborhood in Lima, surrounded by other elites. In Latin America, class divisions are very stark. My children would go to school only with other elite children, and all of those families would have maids that they would treat as less worthy than themselves.

I don’t want to live like that either – with all elite people in an enclosed neighborhood, surrounded by poverty on the outside. I don’t want my kids to grow up in a society where one small sector of the population thinks itself much better than the other.

As I was talking about this, a Colombian friend of ours pointed out that in the US, racial divisions are very stark. I agreed with him about that. In US cities, it is very hard not to live in a segregated area. In most cities, you have to choose if you want to live in the white, black, or Latino neighborhood. That would be another hard decision for my family.

In Lawrence, Kansas, where we live in the US, we didn’t have to make that decision. The town is primarily white, and there is not a lot of segregation. Of course, the issue is that my kids will grow up in a primarily white environment.

In any case, I feel prepared to deal with issues of race in the US. I can talk to my kids about race and teach them what I know about it. In terms of the tremendous class inequality in Latin America, I feel less comfortable.

At my friend’s house today in Guatemala, the owner of the house told the maid that she could take home a broken toy guitar, as the boy of the house got a new one. The boy, who is five, said to his mother: “Oh, I know why she took it. She gets all of our broken stuff.” The mother, who is Spanish, was devastated. She did not want her boy to grow up thinking that some people get all the broken things, while others get the good stuff.

I feel the same way. I don’t want my kids to grow up feeling entitled to anything. They don’t deserve things just because of who they are, and I want to be sure they know that.

Funny how, at the end of this essay, I came back to what I initially said I disliked about Americans – that sense of entitlement. Maybe I need to re-assess where I want to live.

For now, at least, I can do what I can to pass on my values to my children, no matter where we live.

No comments:

Post a Comment