Friday, May 22, 2009
A new American friend in cyberspace sent me an email today asking if from the title of my blog I was an Expatriot or an "expatriate". Quite honestly it gave me pause. I decided I'd better check good ole Websters to see if who I think I am fits the label. I also responded to the mailer asking what the words meant to HIM. I look forward to his response.
The online dictionary gave me these definitions:
An expatriate (in abbreviated form, expat) is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing or legal residence. The word comes from the Latin ex (out of) and patria (country, fatherland).
It really didn't have a separate definition for my spelling of "Expatriot", so I was stuck with going back to the apparently "correct" spelling of e-x-p-a-t-r-i-a-t-e. But wait a minute...some of the potential definitions of this word do not fit with my self- description...
–verb (used with object)
1. to banish (a person) from his or her native country.
2. to withdraw (oneself) from residence in one's native country.
3. to withdraw (oneself) from allegiance to one's country.
–verb (used without object)
4. to become an expatriate: He expatriated from his homeland.
5. expatriated; exiled.
For me, living outside the USA has been totally by my choice and volition. I have not been "banished" or "exiled". Therefore, I have taken that word out of my title for this blog space and replaced it simply with "American". But then again, "American" is a word that may be misunderstood or not be very defining as well. Boy, this is getting complicated. What does it mean for me to be American and/or an Expat?
A⋅mer⋅i⋅can /əˈmɛrɪkən/ Show Spelled Pronunciation [uh-mer-i-kuhn]
1. of or pertaining to the United States of America or its inhabitants: an American citizen.
2. of or pertaining to North or South America; of the Western Hemisphere: the American continents.
3. of or pertaining to the aboriginal Indians of North and South America, usually excluding the Eskimos, regarded as being of Asian ancestry and marked generally by reddish to brownish skin, black hair, dark eyes, and prominent cheekbones.
As seems typical in our modern day world, labels and names have become distorted or narrowed in meaning from what they may have meant earlier in history...or only 50 years ago. To accept the broad sense of the adjective "American", it can mean just about anyone in the western hemisphere...or at least in the "Americas". Then when you take into account definition #3, the original Americans were aboriginal Indians who in just 2-3 short centuries were overrun by "invaders", "explorers", "foreigners", most of whom were white Anglo Saxons, Spaniards or Portuguese. The original American culture has been relegated to reservations or folklore while in Central and South America SOME original Americans still have their tribal areas that they occupy and own. But the term "American" is not used by or for them and instead quite narrowly describes for most people in the world only the citizens of the United States of America. Quite the narrowing for such a broad term.
OK...without going into detailed pursuit of how or why this happened in the past 150 years or so, let's just assume it is OK and we are moving forward. The USA during the past two centuries has become more and more of a melting pot. While it seems to me that many relatively new Americans have forgotten where they came from or lost their previous cultural identities and languages, it is still undeniable that the USA is actually THE most diverse democracy in the world. While educated white people still tend to be the "poster children" of what an American is, the truth is white Americans are a dwindling majority. According to Wikipedia, our racial breakdown as of 2006 was:
* Total population: 299 million
* White alone: 74% or 221.3 million
- Not including the 23.2 million White Hispanic and Latino Americans: 66% or 198.1 million
* Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, of any race: 14.8% or about 44.3 million
* Black or African American alone: 13.4% or 40.9 million
* Some other race alone: 6.5% or 19 million
* Asian alone: 4.4% or 13.1 million
* Two or more races: 2.0% or 6.1 million
* American Indian or Alaska Native alone: 0.68% or 2.0 million
* Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander alone: 0.14% or 0.43 million
The big news here is that Hispanic Americans have bypassed Black or African Americans as percentage of population. And I should point out the obvious that within the "white" statistics you include most of the people of Mediterranean or Middle East heritage including Jews, Arabs, Russians...quite an assortment of white people that you would not immediately identify with "American" traits.
Now let's consider the meaning and characteristics of a "Patriot". It seems the roots of the word are found in Greek, “patrios”, of one's fathers. Again, not a word that matches what I think it has grown to mean in the minds of most Westerners. Most people nowadays think of Patriot as a description of nationality versus “kin” or family.
One of my favorite movies of Mel Gibson is “The Patriot” which is a reasonably good dramatization of what it meant to be a “Patriot” in the founding of the USA. While most of the movie was fictional and hyped in Hollywood drama, it did illustrate what I believe were realistic struggles of those early modern “Americans”. They were still relatively new to a new continent of settlement. They were caught between the battles against the original American Indians who they were driving west while fighting their former sovereigns from Europe from their “backside”. In many ways they were out manned and out gunned, yet their passion to live freely in a “new country” was the force that the new “America” was built on. There is no doubt that many of the new “Americans” were violent, racist, and many had criminal pasts they were running from in their home countries. Yet, the founding fathers that developed out of the original 13 states were able to miraculously pull most everyone together under an unprecedented Constitution and Magna Carta. The thirst for new beginnings and individual freedom from centuries of aristocracies and monarchies in Europe and the East became a magnet of likeminded people of all races and statures to pursue their new beginnings in…”America”.
Now, a short two centuries later we still have “Patriots” fighting for our country. Fortunately for us Americans, they are fighting in other countries, in other people’s backyards and towns. Yet, I fear the call of Patriotism has been watered down tremendously by the growth of Big Government and a culture that has become so rich so fast that a majority have lost the core fundamental values that formed our greatness. Our government continues to beat the drum of “God and country” while I would argue a majority of Americans have lost their sense of personal values when it comes to the meaning of freedom and individual rights. I feel we are in a quiet “civil war” amongst ourselves of what it means to be an American…a “Patriot”. A majority of Americans seem to be content to go along with Big Government and relinquish their individual sovereignty for the “greater good”. Taxation without representation has been the standard for so long that it is just now, during these perilous economic times, that Americans like the voters in California this week and elsewhere are voting down any tax bill that comes down the pike. The Federal Government has stopped asking permission to increase taxes… and just locked step between the Executive, Congressional and Judicial branches to support and sustain this monolith of bureaucracy “at any cost”. In my mind, they have redefined “patriotism” as going along blindly with the government program. The new “Patriot Acts” have stripped away American’s individual rights and due process of law to where I find it hard to call it a true “democracy”. Some of the emerging markets and countries are purer forms of democracy and freedom than my home country. This saddens me to no end, and quite honestly the core reason of why I now find myself in the role of “expatriate”. Until my country can get back to its core principles of free enterprise, due process of law even by the government, and taking care of ourselves instead of expecting government to do so…I would find it hard to move back there. Maybe I am more exacting to label myself a "Global Patriot"?
Does this mean I am “Un Patriotic”? Hell no! I would suggest that there is a growing tide of individuals like myself, both inside and outside the USA, who are getting more earnest and passionate about taking back our lives and freedoms from our government. We will no longer vote with the mainstream two party systems that increasingly bear no distinction from one another. We will no longer accept the interference and intolerance of our government for dissent. A growing number of us want the USA to return to the foundations of its Constitution, a return to the principles of free enterprise that drove competition and once made us the most powerful, richest country in the world. How can it be in such a short span of 60+ years our country has been turned into a bankrupt, power mongering “Super Power” that for the sake of pride and cover-up of past sins is spending itself into oblivion and fighting many fronts of non-declared wars that are bringing us to our knees economically? I believe our country is becoming more divided by the minute…between the conservatives and the liberals, the Democrats and the Republicans, the religious and the non-religious, and primarily the rich against the poor. Unfortunately, the ranks of the poor are growing at a much faster rate than rich producers. If you are a mathematician or a scientist, you quickly understand where we are heading. Only if you are a blind believer in God or Government are you able to feel “Ok” about what is going on right now.
So, who is the true “Patriot” or “American” today? Is it the blind hordes that are cutting every corner and taking every handout they can get from government coffers? Is it the few remaining middle class, productive Americans who still have a job to go to in the USA, pay their taxes without complaint, and go to church every Sunday? Is it the young Libertarian or “independent” who is picketing for certain causes, demanding a balanced budget from their government and looking for reversal of the “Patriot Act”? Is it those of us who have chosen to live outside our country yet still looking in and trying to shout back to our friends and family “back home” what we are seeing and hearing?
I would argue that today’s true “Patriot” is a “Global Patriot”. We don’t just want “our country” to win at the expense of the rest of humanity. Our morality does not allow us rise financially by stealing from our neighbor or future generations, and we don’t think Governments should do that either. We embrace globalization, if only because we realize it is here to stay…unless of course the “super powers” among us succeed in obliterating each other in irrevocable nuclear exchanges. We are “Global Patriots” because we want ALL governments to agree together to save our environment, reverse the effects of Global Warming, and stop our constant aggressions for “Patriotic” reasons. “Global Patriots” want to know and understand all of humanity and find ways to peacefully coexist without having to dictate what kind of government or religion our neighbor wants to practice. “Global Patriots” believe that TRADE is a better unifier than running guns and armaments to “somehow” balance the foreign powers that we support or agree with. And finally, Global Patriots support freedom for all to live, worship, celebrate life, pursue liberty and happiness however THEY define it, as long as it does not affect the next person’s freedom to do the same.
To cut to the chase…I believe if American Patriotism doesn’t soon evolve into some form of “Global Patriotism”, our country and way of life as we have known it will be completely over run. I AM American…but I am also Global…so my struggle and my vision has multiplied in dimension more than I will probably ever comprehend in this lifetime. I am the sum of those I have grown to know and love…therefore…I am American, I am Latin, I am Jewish, I am Arabic, I am Embera Indian, I am Norwegian, I am Black, I am Asian. The word Patriot…or “expatriate”…is way too limiting and meaningless in comparison.