Don’t wear clothes with American slogans or American school names. Don’t walk in large groups with Americans. Don’t go to restaurants where Americans frequent. If there’s an international emergency, go straight home.
These were the safety tips I was given by my Spanish study abroad advisers. They were giving us safety tips for this turbulent time in the world we’re now experiencing. One of the best ways to stay safe: pretend you aren’t American.
Americans are used to walking around in our country fearlessly, with a huge supply of nuclear arms in the dugout. But when we’re away from our home turf, it’s not so easy. In a previous column, I remarked it seemed we were universally disliked around the world. Only recently, have I begun to actually fear for myself.
Two weeks ago, in the center of Madrid, I had the unfortunate luck to run across an anti-American rally. Torn red white and blue flags were strewn around, and spat upon. Signs translating to phrases such as “Capitalist pigs” and “Don’t bring us into your war” were being held up. I was aghast that such hatred could exist, especially in Spain, one of our allies. I got out of there as quick as I could. Another safety tip from the advisers: stay away from all rallies.
We are hated because of policies most of us have no control over, because of a president some of us didn’t vote for and for an unsettling time created by a terrorist attack that none of us suspected. It’s not fair that I should have to hide my identity to be safe in this country but I guess that nothing much is fair these days anyway.
Even though I’m currently an American incognito, I’m glad I have the chance to witness this first hand. How can you ever expect to solve the hatred until you realize just where it is or where it stems from?
Different newspapers with different reporters tell different stories. Sometimes the news makes Americans scared, while other times, Americans feel secured. But here, where you can see someone spit on the flag you have pledged your allegiance to since kindergarten; you begin to get a sense of where we still are in the scheme of things.
We still have a long way to go.
I don’t know how this hatred could have grown this much, or how it will stop. While I was safe in Colorado, people hated me, the rest of the American people and I had no real clue about it. So, as ignorant as I was, I didn’t feel the need to change it.
But I see now. I see how Americans have to reach out to the rest of the world, instead of staying safe and secluded in our own community. I’m not talking about Americans in the political sense, I’m talking about individual Americans making an effort to go out into the world and make a difference.
It won’t change people’s hatred when they listen to an American speech or listen to Bush speak. The hatred will change if people in the world can meet individual Americans, make friends, and understand that we are not all capitalist pigs.
This needs to happen. Quickly.