Sunday, January 9, 2011

Toward a more perfect union

I love my country. Like other Americans who feel this way, I also carry around an idealized America. Mine would be more richly tapestried - here we are, this nation of immigrants, in this processed, white-bread cultural landscape. My America would be shore-to-shore Manhattan - every kind of food, festival, language, literature, music. We would all have fruit trees and pots of herbs on the sunny side of the house. My neighbors would tell me of their African ancestors and let me taste their harvest festival food. The Department of Ancestry would assist the descendants of slaves in finding their ancestral regions. I would know all about Hanukkah and Eid, because we would grow up hearing the parables, taking the wise lessons from all traditions. In my made up America, we would be multi-lingual; more than 10% of us would have passports; we would be knowledgeable about the history, music, poetry and wine of our fellow travelers, and that would lead to less fear and war. And less of that swaggering 'we're number one' talk that is like vomit in the throat to me. Even in the areas where we lead the world (fewer than we think), this is arrogant and rude, and lacks the knowledge and respect we should have for other nations who also get it right. The national conversation I'd like to be in is about how we can't feed our sense of the other, since, here more than anywhere, there is no other. Only us.
One thing I'd take from this America to the imagined America is Netflix. All the choices! - many foreign films, and directors with other perspectives. One recent gem I saw is "The Agronomist," about Haitian journalist Jean Dominique. We know so little about even our closest neighbors, particularly about how American foreign policy plays out in sometimes devastating ways.
Another terrific film is "Not One Less," about a young teacher in rural China; "We Loved Each Other So Much," about Lebanese singer Fairuz; "Heavy Metal in Baghdad," about a band of young musicians navigating their terrifying political world under, first, Saddam Hussein, and then the American-led war.

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