Wednesday, July 25, 2007

10 Things I Didn't Know About America and Americans a.k.a Postcolonial Projections of Paradise Elsewhere

1. Growing up in postcolonial Philippines, America is the land of unlimited opportunities and wealth. I grew up believing it is a country where everyone is 'middle class,' i.e. everyone can own a house with white picket fences, a washing machine, a microwave oven, two cars and raise 2.3 children. I now know that poverty exists in America, painfully illustrated by Hurricane Katrina. Some Americans literally live in hovels. Some have no homes at all.

2. Growing up in postcolonial Philippines, American values are always superior to our own. Values such as individualism, the lack of 'shame' (hiya), assertiveness, initiative, competitiveness, privacy and absolute 'freedom.' I now know that there is nothing wrong with collectivism, a sense of shame, deferring to others, wanting consensus, cooperation, openness and some restrictions to freedom.

3. Growing up in postcolonial Philippines, I thought all Americans made a decent living - even labourers, that's why not everyone goes to college. I now know that a copywriter for a newspaper in Texas earns less than than an employee at Mc Donald's here in Australia. The college-educated copywriter earns $12USD/hour, a pimply teenager who takes your order earns $17.50 AUD/hour (roughly, $15.50 USD). Now I know the reason why not everyone
goes to college is that tertiary education in the US can be very expensive.

4. Growing up in postcolonial Philippines, I thought all Americans were smart. Now I know only certain portions of the elite are smart. However, if you're not so smart but rich, you can still become President. The rest who are not so smart are a result of declining standards of public education. If you watch this video, you will see this for yourself.

5. Growing up in postcolonial Philippines, I thought all Americans were good-looking. I thought all white people were good-looking. The whiter your skin, the more good-looking you are. But I have since realised, that some white people can be plain-looking, even ugly.

6. Growing up in postcolonial Philippines, I thought all Americans were tall. But not all of them are, some are quite short.

7. Growing up in postcolonial Philippines, I thought all Americans were extraordinarily hard-working. Not only do they maintain a job, some even have two or three! Now I know this is because some simply don't make enough doing one job. And some are only allowed a certain number of hours because it is government policy to keep the American labour market "flexible." I now know that not all folks in rich countries need to work themselves to death. For example, here in Australia, most businesses close by four or five. Malls are dead by 6pm on weekdays, even earlier on weekends! Australians put a premium on leisure time, time to "not work," time to pursue other interests. This is why I tend to believe Canadian author John Ralston Saul, that America is a Third World country, masquerading as an developed economy.

8. Growing up in postcolonial Philippines, I thought all Americans were not religious. Now I know some of them, especially those living in the middle part, can be quite rabidly fanatic. These fundamentalist Christians are so influential, certain policies are contested in deference to their beliefs. For example, some contested stem-cell research and some opposed teaching evolution in schools!

9. Growing up in postcolonial Philippines, I thought other peoples had their version of English. For example, I thought the Japanese had to learn both Nippongo as well as their version of "English" in schools. I didn't know that English was a foreign language altogether. In grade school, I wondered why we needed to learn English at all if the Japanese didn't.

10. Growing up in postcolonial Philipines, I thought America was the best place in the world. This explained why so many people wanted to move there. This explained why, in the local movies, everyone went on vacations in "the States." When a character wanted to take a break from it all, or wanted to improve themselves, they always went to "the States." Their imported things were always "nice" because they were from "the States." So, in my young mind, I thought - "the States" must be great.

But now I now, America is not the best place in the world. Now I know Americans are the most indebted, with their government having a public debt of over $6 trillion. Americans have to pay taxes to launch wars that kill people abroad. Americans have to work more hours to pay for their things. This is because Americans suffer from hyperconsumption. Americans are the fattest people in the world, while paradoxically, those they admire on TV are getting thinner and thinner. Non-white Americans still suffer discrimination. Non-white Americans do not have the same upward economic mobility as white ones. Women are induced to get bigger boobs, even when they are so young. Girls are sexualised so young.

Now I know that America is not the paradise of our postcolonial mind. Americans have their own problems as we do.

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