The US Does Not Exist in a Vacuum

October 25, 2019

A couple of weeks ago, a friend of mine told me that sometimes when he is outside of the United States he feels like he is in the world, as opposed to when he is in the U.S. he feels like he is in just in the U.S. He so elegantly put into words a feeling that I was painfully familiar with. When I am in Mexico, I feel at home. When I traveled in Latin America and Europe I felt immersed in their culture, their way of life, their views. But it is only in the U.S. that I have to constantly remind myself that I am in a country, not a separate universe. 


Each country has a different history, but the only place where I have felt incentivized to not think about world history, or event current affairs happening in other countries, has been in the U.S. This does not mean that U.S. citizens do not comment on what is happening in the world. Everyone and their mom have an opinion on how other countries are ‘failed states,’ or on how Latin American countries are getting more and more dangerous every day. But the second I, or another international student, dare express an opinion about U.S. politics or current events, the answer is always the same: “Well, you wouldn’t understand, you are not American.”




In the U.S. only around 42 percent of the population has a passport (a huge increase from the levels in 1990 when only about four percent had one). And although today many U.S. citizens speak more than one language (mostly thanks to the high numbers of immigrants settling down in the country), only about seven percent of U.S. university students study a language in college––mostly European languages too. In general, U.S. citizens are encouraged to not travel abroad (or when they do, they go to Cancún for spring break and stay at an expensive resort where they only interact with other tourists from the States), to fear other languages (“We speak English here, I suggest you learn it,” they told a girl from Drew after hearing her accent…from Australia) and to put America first. At what cost?


When I read dystopian novels, I always used to think it was weird every story was set in “a country that once was known as the United States.” But maybe these writers were onto something. Sometimes living in the U.S. in 2019 feels like a dystopian novel, only the stakes are higher. 


The past couple of weeks have been stressful for Latin Americans. Take a moment from your day to read about what happened in Culiacán, México, the protests in Chile and Ecuador or the ongoing struggles of Venezuelan refugees. Most importantly, take some hours from your week to think about the role the United States has played in the political unrest currently happening in Latin America, think about the role you play when you buy illegal drugs to have fun at a party but then talk shit about the drug war in Latin America. 


I invite you to have uncomfortable conversations, to listen to opinions that are different than yours…but really listen to them. Give people a chance to explain where they are coming from without dismissing their point of view because they don’t share your background. 


Kassel is a senior International Relations and Women's and Gender Studies double major with a minor in Latin American Studies.

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