Thursday, June 02, 2005

At times, the expat feels an overwhelming urge to be in America

…at times, I feel an overwhelming urge to be in America — in the vast, open center of America
writes Megan Riley McGilchrist, an expat who has lived in England for the past 28 years, in the International Herald Tribune.
It is a place where I feel safe.

In London, the edges are ragged. I worry about bombs in the Underground. People speak with dread about what is going on in the world. Dinner parties always devolve into politics. Everyone fears that America is dragging us all down to an unspeakable fate.

It is a matter of faith in my circles that the monster of globalized capitalism is responsible for 5-year-olds sifting through garbage in Bolivia, for adolescent carpet-makers in India going blind, for child prostitution in Thailand. And America is the world's biggest economy, its worst polluter, its most aggressive military power.

… I don't really believe, as some European philosophers so archly do, that America is some odd simulacrum of reality. It is, though, I know, a different reality, one that out of those endless spaces is powerful enough to affect the rest of us so profoundly.
A few years ago, McGilchrist (who is completing a doctorate in 20th-century American literature at the University of Derby) took a car trip across America with her three children.
"Can't we move here?" they whine. …

A few days later we are in Mitchell, South Dakota, watching a rodeo. My English 10-year-old, in jeans, straw hat and denim jacket, is indistinguishable from the local boys. In the stands, the space below our feet fills with Budweiser cups and corncobs. Riders roll in the mud, wrestling animals to the ground in split seconds. As a finale, tiny children ride sheep, and a 4-year-old lopes out of the ring in perfect imitation of his elders, the winner, despite a kick in the stomach from an angry ewe.

"Can't we live here?" my children moo.

… Miles from Europe's political consciousness, far from my uncomfortable thoughts at home, the longing overcomes me like a wave, and I want to be back there, unknown and unknowing.

"Can't I live here?" I wonder, feeling the space wash through me.

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