Friday, March 9, 2007

Americans Are...

Your words were meant for someone else.
I know.
But they hurt just the same.

"I don't mean you," you say.
But sweeping generalizations cannot be minimized
by your personal wishes.

If you do not condemn me,
then you still condemn my children,
my mother,
my brother,
my aunts and uncles and
my still unconceived grandchildren.
You condemn my reality as I know it,
the circumscribed lines which delineate my existence.

"But it doesn't mean anything,
it's just a stereotype,
it's what people say," you indicate.
In my eyes, you have merged into the masses,
and I begin to grieve my loss
of what I had hoped would become a friendship.

We all search for uniformity,
to place people and events and things into boxes,
with little labels attached.

I thought you understood that humanity is complex,
that Americans are not all the same,
that a political system does not reflect
the depths of each individual's soul.

Not all Americans were raised with silver spoons in their mouths.
Some of us remember winter months
huddled before the fireplace with mother and brother
because we couldn't afford the cost of heat.
Kind friends having donated wood.

Not all of us had the privilege of free time while
attending high school and college.
We worked low-paying jobs during our off hours
to help ensure our family could buy food and pay the bills.

Not all of us know what it is like to dine in fancy restaurants.
But we do know what it is like to stand in line for food
at the food bank,
and to feel the embarrassment of
paying for groceries with food stamps.

We worked hard to earn the right to dream,
to create,
to learn,
to imagine,
to delight in our successes.

So when you think you are being funny,
are making a well-accepted statement,
are saying something that is deserved,
instead you are condemning me.
You are encapsulating my existence
into your limited ability for compassion,
for humility,
for complexity.

Despite all of this,
I do understand you.
And I wish you well.

I hope someday you will be able to broaden your mind,
your heart,
your soul,
to avoid sweeping generalizations about other cultures.
Despite what you tell yourself,
despite your justification for the lack of carefully chosen words,
despite the fact that you attack me for not being more understanding,
for agreeing,
for simply accepting,
despite all of this,
I am still American.


Juliet said...

Did someone say hurtful generalizations to you? *hugs* It always hurts. Especially when you think they know you.
There is a post that I have lived and felt. Thank you.

dinka said...

Oh Corey... yikes. I must admit i've been guilty of that in the past. I hope i won't be in the future. I don't know who you're talking about, but i would dare say you planted something they won't forget. I'm glad you showed your hurt.

Corey said...

Thank you, both of you! This is actually a poem LONG in coming. It is a compilation of numerous discussions and comments over the years. Writing it has allowed me to finally let it go in many ways... just being able to admit the hurt that comes from flippant comments. But it is also a poem that could be used for any culture. I feel just as angry when someone tries to make sweeping generalizations about Germans (my husband's culture)! I become so frustrated when anyone makes general degrading statments about any culture (I have been guilty of this too!). "Germans are..." "Japanese are..." "French are..." these statements all stab us somewhere deep down, or at the very least, they influence our images of that culture and its people. Don't we owe it to one another to say what we have to say with careful words? I definitely feel we are allowed and encouraged to make specific criticisms or even to attack specific issues. But then we should make it very clear what the issues are and what the specifics of the complaint are. It is the sweeping ones that seem so immature to me and do the harm. They leave very little open for discussion. They are a way for the speaker to make their statement and then to be able to turn away, leaving the listener speechless and the conversation at a dead end.

Alice in Austria said...

Oh wow what an amazingly powerful poem this is!!! Thank YOU SO much for sharing!!!! I think you know how much I've needed to read this, to ...

Lilian said...

I had read the other poems as you posted them, but I had glossed over this one. Now as I read your post "explaining" what you've just gone through, I came back to check it out.

And I find myself guilty, very guilty. It's part of the clash, of trying to adapt to life in another country. These generalizations may come from some people's deep frustrations and feeling of alienation that arise when coming in contact with the American culture. (I just watched that stupid movie Borat last night and it's a bit of an example of that -- making fun of things that are just typical of some Americans, not the whole country).

Funny thing is that over the years I've been more and more frustrated at how I have to end up trying to explain how America works to my friends every time I go to Brazil. (almost "defend" it at times -- even though I also disagree with many things here).

I totally see what you're trying to get at -- I mean, particularly in the past few years, this country has been split right in the middle and the generalizations that are made about one type or small portion of Americans definitely don't fit most people.

If I critizize "Americans" in general, I'll be criticizing my very sons -- isn't that crazy? You mention that in the poem.

Anyway, I could go on, on, and on... but I want to finish my latest post :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Lilian,

This is Corey's husband, Rainer. Corey just read your response to her poem on Americans to me and I can't resist responding to that. I find myself criticizing 'Americans' and the way things are done when I am here in the States. Sometimes I have to hold myself back when I am in front of my students. Of course they know that I like it here so they don't take offense. Then, when in Germany, I find myself defending America, on some issues at least. Faced with the ignorance of those who have opinions without having any real understanding I turn into an American ambassador. Maybe I feel subconsciously that my choice to emigrate is put into question but more than that I believe that what irritates me is that people utter these sweeping statements with a certain sense of being superior without truly reflecting or caring to reflect the issue. On our last trip to Germany, on our first day over there, I had a conversation in which I received the unsolicited comment "I would never want to live in the US", the remark being clearly directed at the American way of life. Upon further discussion I realized that the person in question had not much more to base her opinion on than Hollywood, American foreign, environmental and economic policy and the occasional article or report on some American oddity. If all I knew about Germany was that there once were Nazis and the Holocaust, that Germans work hard and build good cars and that they like to drink beer while wearing Lederhosen in October, that they are all philosophers, serious and pensive, my knowledge of Germans would be as profound as the knowledge many Germans have of Americans.
I could go on and on, the psychology of feeling better about oneself by putting others down, the understandable feeling of helplessness when faced with the overwhelming influence of America in the world and and and ...
Corey tells me I should get my own damn blog.

Corey said...

Thank you, all of you, for your comments. As I said before, this poem needed to be written for a long time. It still comes to my mind from time to time... what it means to be American, what it means to feel part-German through my connection to my husband and my time there... and how comments can hurt even if we don't want them to.

Sharon said...

As you know, I've not read many blogs, and have never written into any. Yours is really the first. But this line, " Lilian said...I had read the other poems as you posted them," made me sit up and take notice. I said to myself, something like, "how is it that I, Corey's own mother, who taught poetry-in-the-schools in her own elementary school classes, am the last to know that my own daughter has written other poems, and she hasn't shared any of them with me?????" I must admit I felt a little hurt.

Sharon said...

In regard to my very first blog: I should have put a smile face at the end of my sentence, to show no ill will, and, better yet, what I should have said is, "where can I read your other poems?"