There is a little girl who lives down the street. I see her sometimes on my morning walk to work. She’s a tiny thing, maybe four or five, and she’s usually wearing shorts, a t-shirt, and flip-flops. I don’t think that she goes to school. Any time I do see her she stops in her tracks, grins from ear to ear, sort of leans back a little, points, and yells at the top of her voice, “AMERICA!” It always catches me off-guard. She communicates only that one word, but her body language shows her complete amazement at seeing me walk down her street yet again. She is a little too shy to talk to me, but her happiness floors me.
The vision of life here can be inspiring, yet the day to day can get mundane quickly. I serve as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in the Philippines. I am helping to increase English Literacy at a local high school. It sounds noble, but most of the time it doesn’t feel that way. Instead, it feels confusing, demanding, boring, impossible, and overwhelming.
One struggle that has been especially trying is being forced to single-handedly represent America. Imagine, for instance, being the only person in your whole town with green eyes. You’d be noticed a bit more, right? Add to that my pale complexion, brown hair, and tall stature and I am a walking billboard for “foreign,” which translates here to “American”. At first I was taken aback by this responsibility. How was I, a 29-year-old, white, vegetarian, who was homeschooled and likes to quilt supposed to represent America? How could I accurately represent a country of such diversity? And if folks watch my actions, will this be their assumption of all Americans?
It was a couple months ago when I realized that I’d been worrying about little stuff, and the questions I received were about things much bigger. “Do American’s eat rice?” “Is everyone in America divorced?” “How much does it cost to buy a house in America?” And what I realized is that I was qualified to answer all of those questions and many more. Part of my hesitation, in fact, was a very American trait, our passion for individuality. And as unique a place as the United States is, there are distinct traits and values, that many American’s have in common; our innovativeness and our passion for freedom and individual rights to enumerate a few.
And that’s why, now, when the little tyke down the street, smiles, points, and yells, “AMERICA!” at me, I smile too, proud to be given the chance to represent my country to the Philippines and to Filipinos. Proud of my country for having an organization like the U.S. Peace Corps, one that is willing and able to help developing countries by sending volunteers all over the world. It might not always work as well as we’d like it too, and maybe I’ll have very little impact here. But the idealist in me believes that attempting to help and make life better for others, well that’s something of its own to be proud of. The belief that others deserve a better life, to achieve their dreams, to succeed, and that as a country in a position to help, that we should, well you just can’t get much more American than that.