Essay by Zinta Aistars
This short essay was first written as a response to another, "The American Dream?" by J. Conrad Guest, posted on www.authorsden.com/jconradguest and later published on the e-zine, Bobbing Around in 2003. It is even more relevent today. The issue at hand is a call to all Americans, indeed, all global citizens, to examine ourselves for erosion of our freedoms as well as signs of the disease of ethnocentricism.
As one born of refugee parents who came to America from a war-torn nation, not seeking new frontiers, but simply running for their lives, I can say this: my family learned the values of this country, realized and respected much of that dream – the dream that was once America. I have grown up in a multicultural home, with two citizenships, and a profound love for both of my countries – the one where I was born, and the one where my most ancient roots have formed a long and complex tangle. Because the latter has for so many centuries suffered for a lack of the most basic freedoms as part of the Soviet Union, I have learned a unique appreciation for those freedoms that perhaps those who have never had to lose them sometimes take for granted. There lies my respect and love for this country. There, also, lies my fear that we will lose those freedoms for lack of understanding of what and how they are constructed, and how they are to be nurtured and protected.
One lesson I have learned from my heritage is the importance of self-examination. In order to protect a freedom, one must constantly maintain a vigilance over it – to watch for signs of erosion. I find the greatest patriots are not those of us who blindly thump our chests and spout nationalistic (and blindly ethnocentric) platitudes, but those of us who, however painful the process, look penetratingly at the face of our own government, scrutinize our own faces in the mirror, examine closely our own hearts, and forever test and retest our consciences for flaws and shortcomings. It is like the parent who spoils the child with an extravagance of lavish gifts… versus the parent who says a firm no to the child from time to time, and teaches the lesson instead, however difficult, that will prepare the child for a life of self-sufficiency and respect, for self and for others. Which is the truly loving parent? Which the one who sends forth a child into adulthood unprepared and spoilt? The patriot cares enough to be honest – with others and with him or herself, most of all.
Perhaps it is only at a time of testing, such as today is, that our own hearts are truly tested. Perhaps it is only then that we truly feel the extent of our own love for our country. It pains me deeply to see in today’s news on a global basis how far our image has been tainted. How did this happen? Erosion, disease… these are things that happen a granule of sand at a time, a single cell at a time. Hardly noticeable… until it is too late. Until there is an avalanche, until the body falls resoundingly to the ground.
As the global community continues to shrink, the process ever gathering speed as we are connected by technology in communications and transportation, it has become more crucial than ever for all cultures to be cognizant of each other. We must strive to understand our rights to be different in all that we are – in our cultures, in our spirituality, in our lifestyles. It is not our goal to Americanize the world. It is not our goal to convert all others to our ways. This is not a time for chest thumping. This is a time for the true patriot to rise up and take a stand. This is a time to seek out the flaw, find the source of the disease, and to attack it mercilessly.
Ah no, I am not speaking of the attack of the missile. I speak of the attack of the introspective spirit upon the disease that weakens it. We must not lose our American Dream. Fancy cars and designer jeans and immense houses be damned… I speak of our freedoms, our willingness to work towards excellence, our hearts to be open to understanding and compassion. This is our fight. If our global image is tarnished, it is up to each and every one of us to honestly and courageously examine the reasons why. Should we find the taint of corruption, or of greed, or a spirituality that has grown as hollow as it is shallow, then here lies our patriotic duty – to polish what is tarnished, to reevaluate what has lost all value, to fill the void that our spirits have become. Here, in our own front yards, lies our greatest battle – and it must be won.
It is painful to look inward. But we must, we must… It is our greatest dream that is at stake.