My stay in Capão has been nothing short of enlightening. Capão is a small town about 8 hours from my future home of seven months, Salvador. It is also within the Chapada Diamantina region that serves as an enormous source of pride for Bahia. In short, inhabitants of Capão can be said to love their rural areas that provide a sense of tranquility and security. During my time here I have encountered many different kinds of people and have consequently listened to many differing opinions covering a wide range of issues that are not limited to the legalization of marijuana, race and class equality, the environment, and differing international perceptions of world events.
When speaking with locals here I often try comparing life in the U.S. and in Brazil. As I have forged more meaningful friendships I am able to gain from a new perspectives that are completely alien to me. The phrase, “Eu não gosto dos Estados Unidos” has been one of some frequency and always causes a very noticeable confusion on my face. Immediately questions race through my mind as I try to effectively and maturely respond in an effort to simply understand. How could someone not like where I am from? Is this attitude somehow based on something I did? How can I communicate effectively so as not to appear ignorant? How can I act contrary to stereotypes?
My host mother, whom I have grown fantastically fond of, surprised me as she apologized saying, “I have something to confess. I don’t like the United States.” The conversation continued as she pointed out politely, factually, and correctly errors in American history. Starting from the massacre of Native Americans, destruction of wild herds of Buffalo, exploitation of colonial America’s natural resources, civil rights issues, and the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq, she concluded that many steps in American history have been deeply regrettable and therefore dislikes the U.S. While I did not agree with everything she said, I felt a deep sense of shame, that somehow the questionable actions and opinions of others were now my own. As I am perhaps the only American many Brazilians will meet or converse with, it is now my responsibility to accurately depict the truth and vanquish rash assumptions about the United States. Our conversation has only solidified my appreciation of her intelligence and I’m certain that I will actively use her as a resource on many domestic and international issues regarding Brazil.
I was taken aback at the sudden list of faults the United States had committed. However, as I have reflected more on the occurrence, I realize that there is nothing sudden about these issues. I have unconsciously decided to forget about that which is hard about being an American and remember the great things we have done for ourselves and for others. However, as I remember that many dislike the U.S., and incorrectly stereotype our way of life because of their lack of interaction and information, I am hesitant to act if it may add to their assumptions. What is also important to note, and can be easily forgotten, is that there are many sides of the same coin. While my host mother criticized certain aspects of U.S. leadership and action, she appreciated the fact the Constitution offers a clear and encompassing idea of liberty and unalienable rights. In this sense she offers a pragmatic view on many international issues by voicing the pros and cons yet finding middle ground where all humanity can come together and agree.
The questions that I have asked of myself are provoking in the sense that I don’t necessarily have answers. Is it human nature to forget a past that is hard to accept? As my journey will soon take me to Salvador it is imperative that I continuously appreciate situations that allow greater insight to broader thinking. Like Indiana Jones, I am taking a leap of faith in that I hope no one will actively perceive me as an American acting according to stereotype. Being abroad with eyes and ears open, a heart and mind ready and able, and a community in Brazil, at home, and amongst Fellows to support me, I am able to engage in this phenomenal opportunity to simply learn. Whether I am delving deeper into pertinent issues or enjoying the evening sunset, accumulating knowledge remains my paramount motive for interaction here in Brazil.