Wednesday, July 04, 2007
The American Experience
Today we celebrate "Independence Day" here in the States, I don't take part in the celebration myself, for me this is a time to reflect, it always has been. Every year I analyze this thing we call the "American Experience" and what it means to me, personally. I've always had this love/hate relationship with this concept of what it means to be an "American" putting all the hype aside and as much as I'd like to ignore this whole thing, it keeps creeping up in my thoughts from time to time, there are so many things that link me to this land, and to this state of mind which is America, heritage included.
Tons of books and articles have been written about the "American Experience", from every conceivable point of view, with just as many spins, slants and biases. At the core, the experience is the same for immigrants, two stories and nothing more: success and misery, Americans are as romantic as they are cynics and always think in terms of success and failure, (apparent success, usually meaning economic success) whatever lies in between is not as important and certainly not worth thinking or talking about, which is a huge fault of character, because there's a lot we're missing out on, "God is in the details" as they say. Everything here is real big, bombastic, grander than grand, we're fatter, richer, more obnoxious, more powerful than the rest. Over achieving is a way of life here, we lose sight of the big picture while we're busy running this big rat race, we're not happy with just winning, we have to annihilate the opponent and then wave our flag while standing on his chest, success as defined by money and celebrity status must be obtained at all costs even if it means to become miserable in the process. Our athletes and our corporations must dominate, not just compete. Winning is everything, What a bore!
I don't offer anything new but my story is kind of unique in its own "American" way (as in romantic kind of way), for the lack of a more suitable adjective.
I say romantic because it's full of ideals, some of these ideals are perceived and are rooted in folklore and some have been realized fully, not without a hefty deal of suffering. Being an American to me means being a walking contradiction, an oxymoron, a work in progress, a perennial better future waiting to happen or a big disgrace making the 11 o'clock news, a rags to riches story constantly at the verge or something huge to be realized in due time. The rags to riches is folklore horseshit, the contradiction is real. The culture in itself is a paradox, full of inconsistencies and among them, there is this absolute conviction in our righteousness and this ridiculous notion that we're better than everyone else.
God is always on the American side, the wars we wage are just and the havoc we impart is justified. Of course, this is all generalizing, which I've been told it's dangerous, but fuck it, it's true. I saw this right wing talking-shithead named Tucker on TV the other day shaking his shaggy head and asking the same stupid question all the time: "Why does the rest of the world hate us? "Why?" Common sense is something of a luxury with him, as rich as he is, apparently he can buy himself none. The world does not hate America or its people, in fact they love everything American, we lead the world in fashion, pop culture and technological advances. The world lives vicariously through us, the world hangs on our every word, we dictate what the world listens, watches, wears and more. The world hates what the government of this country stands for, what the greedy and careless corporations of this country do in every other nation, they hate American businesses abroad, not Americans, corporate pirates raping and bankrupting nations so we can drive bigger cars and build bigger bellies. They hate what the American government represents and the government doesn't represent us, or rather, it does but makes all of us look bad. Americans are kind people but they do buy into this flag-waving brainwashing rubbish that politicians feed them, therein lies the contradiction.
It is a sad, sad time for America these days, once the champions of freedom, now gluttonous bullies, There is so much goodness in its people and in its values and in the principles of the founding fathers, who themselves were walking contradictions; how can you proclaim "All men are created equal" and own slaves at the same time? . . . Yeah, I know, economics!
Unfortunately what other countries see is this greedy monster, swallowing the world whole, this cancer and its arrogance in the form of its officials. You might say that I'm full of shit but I've been on both sides of this equation, when I was a kid, my friends and I used to skip school to go to the rallies and public demonstrations against the U.S. policies in Latin America, we used to throw rocks at the cops and yell "Yankees go Home" like parrots, I wasn't protesting anything, I just wanted to skip school and have a good time. It was just what we did to have fun, I had no motivation to hate the U.S, but plenty of reasons to love it. once the anti-mutiny trucks made their presence felt we scattered back home like roaches when the lights are turned on.
I couldn't have cared less for politics at that age, but I felt the pain of those who were powerless against an empire of greed, I always wanted to be here because to me this was where rock'n'roll, blues, jazz, animation and comics were born or at least where all these art forms flourished and thrived. This is still "The Place" to be, make no mistake, there is no other country in the world I'd rather be, Canada is nice but this is where everything happens, therein lies the contradiction.
As a young adult I became painfully aware of what was going on around me, how that very thing I loved and yearn for was also the cause of my people's suffering. Things started to affect me personally, people I cared about were directly impacted, I saw people protesting against American intervention in Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panamá and everywhere else the U.S. held economic "interests", I watched (from the comfort of my own home) how they toppled leaders and placed puppet dictators, bribing and blackmailing governments into submission, flexing their economic and political muscles in behalf of corporate greed. Yet I still wanted nothing else but to come here and live "the American Experience" which is not the same as the so called "American Dream".
My great Grandfather from my mother's side, was a black man born in the South, Georgia to be precise, his name was Rupert Wilson, he left the United States and moved to Jamaica towards the end of the 19th century. His son Rupert Jr. was born in Kingston, he found work as a teenager at the old British Petroleum refineries, Oil was all the rage in those days (and still is) American oil corporations and the British government which owned BP were in a virtual dead heat, competing against each other, fighting tooth and nail to become THE ruler of the world. They understood the significance, he who controls the oil rules the world, they were both deadly accurate, as time would prove. England had an advantage, they had many colonies in Africa, Asia and the Middle East and they had been at it since the days before the Iranian revolution, they were called Anglo-Persian Oil Fields back then. Once they got their asses kicked out of Iran they went to South America to drill for fossil fuel, this is before the Americans entered this deadly game in earnest. They were both piling up countries, buying governments and drilling everywhere there was dirt and even the sea, poking holes in any nation that would allow them to acquire cheap land concessions through palm-greasing and extortion. The competition was so fierce they had to join forces to avoid destroying each other and in doing so they controlled prices and ran amok, no one stood in their way until the arabs got organized, anyways.
Which brings us to Ecuador. Since Venezuela was being exploited by Shell Oil (the Dutch oil company) and the Americans had found plenty of cheap oil in Texas, Anglo (British Petroleum) set up shop in the coastal areas of South America, they found a gold mine in Ecuador (black gold that is) where they had successfully discovered huge deposits of oil and natural gas in the teens and 20's.
Young Rupert came to Ancón de Sardinas with the Anglo corporation (which changed its name of operations in Ecuador to Anglo-Ecuadorian Oil Fields to avoid pissing off the natives I guess) When the concession period ended, Anglo was forced to leave the country but the damaged had been done, they squeezed every last drop of oil out of the ground and left the carcasses of the old and inadequate equipment and refineries to rot, never fulfilling on their obligation to clean up the environment they fucked up, and failed to leave behind the infrastructure they built in sound and workable condition as it was contemplated in their contract. After they bled that country dry, as they did in many other places, where corrupted officials gave them "carta blanca", all there was left was an abandoned, inadequate and obsolete railroad system built exclusively to transport oil from the coast to the interior, which now lays there in shambles as a monument to corporate neglect. When clueless folks in America wonder "why do they hate us so much", this is why. The average American is a thoughtful, compassionate person but he/she has no idea of how this country is viewed outside its borders because of the crap that goes on behind our backs, it puzzles the fuck out of them to know they are the object of such hatred by other countries, politicians keep feeding them the same line: "They hate our freedoms and our way of life" , the reality is no one hates our "freedoms", other people wish they could have the freedoms we enjoy here but they don't hate us for it, they just want to be left alone. For as long as the masses keep swallowing this nonsense, the government keeps getting away with murder (literarily). People in other nations have this distorted view of Americans because of what they've experienced in their own land but as soon as they arrive here they begin to realize just how kind-hearted and decent the real Americans are.
Ruperto as he was then known, married a local woman and settled down in Anconcito, where he sired 4 daughters: Anatolia, Eugenia, Lucia and María — actually, María had a different father but he loved her as his own, nonetheless— The family lived in relative bliss for many years until Rupert retired from working the oil fields, the girls were all grown up, married with children of their own by then, except for Anatolia who was still a young unmarried woman but already had 4 children. He decided to go back to England with his wife to enjoy retirement and a nice pension with medical benefits, which he knew couldn't acquire in his adopted third world home, he intended to take his younger daughter and one of his granddaughters with him to protect young Anatolia from her abusive mate.
Anatolia had Marina, Jenny, Genoveva, Norma and Eduardo and turned down my great Granddaddy's offer to go to London because she couldn't bear being separated from the rest of her children. Rupert could only take two family members with him in addition to his wife, he chose Anatolia and her older daughter Marina. It is also said that her refusal to leave for London broke Rupert's heart in a thousand pieces because he loved Anatolia the most out of all his daughters and he felt terrible for leaving her behind because he knew how miserable she was.
Rupert died a few years later in London, an ocean away from his beloved Ana. My grandmother, Anatolia Wilson died at the tender age of forty, from a bad case of pneumonia soon after I was born. Of the four Wilson sisters, only Lucía remains, I lived with her and her husband Pablo for a couple of years and from her I learned most of what I'm telling you now. My Mom told me grandma Anatolia was living with us at the time and she says my grandmother used to play with me and sing me to sleep. She says I brought a lot of joy to her, as she was always in precarious health, I was too young to remember but I'd like to think I did, somehow I sleep better at night thinking I did.
In the years that followed, our American connection came full circle, my Mom moved to New York in her late twenties looking for a better life she never found, one of those immigrants who come here to work and save enough money to go back home and live the good life but never actually leave, and then I came along for the ride of my life, to the place I've always felt I belonged and at the same time to the most foreign place on this earth, therein lies the contradiction.
Happy 4th of July!