So an American, a Spaniard, and a German Walked Into A Bar….

What I so love about teaching at an international school is the wide range of multicultural viewpoints I am confronted with daily.  When you first arrive you don’t feel that you have a distinct identity that classifies you as anything but yourself.  But the more I interacted with the cornucopia of nationalities, the more I realized…I’m an American.

And the more you become American in your global the community, the more beat up you get for things that your country has done, is doing, will do.  I am not to blame for George W. Bush.  I am not to blame for Nike sweatshops.  I am not to blame for Iraq, Afghanistan, Japanese Internment, Abu Ghraib, the Trail of Tears, the African Slave trade, the Atomic Bomb…or am I?

My friends and I went out to enjoy the evening’s warmth in an outdoor café.  We drank some cocktails, we savored some delicious food, we told stories, and continually reminded each other how lucky we were to have jobs, roofs over our heads, and peace in our countries.

As we talked of our subjects, students, and homes, the conversation turned to guilt.  How guilty should we feel for the atrocities our countries have committed?  Do we need to apologize to someone?  Should the Spaniard apologize to the Latin American even though the Latin American hates her for something that occurred in 1518? Should the American apologize for her family that owned slaves in the 1800’s?  Should the German apologize for his family’s connection to World War II?

Just how responsible are we for the tragedies that have taken place in our world?  How responsible are we for the acts our country commits today?  And what is our responsibility to the students we teach?  How do we teach them to reconcile with those people who will not forgive you for your nation’s past?

We agreed to disagree.  We agreed that we could only give our students a space to become aware that their countries, like heroes, have their good sides and bad sides.  There is much to be proud of and much to come to grips with.

In spite of how uncomfortable the conversation became I was thrilled to be a part of it.  I was thankful that we could sit and lie out all that Weltschmerz on the table and push it around a little.  The world has pain, our countries had contributed to that pain, but what we do with that pain is part of each individual’s own personal journey.

5 replies

  1. This really resonated with me! I was living in Taiwan when the Bush/Cheney administration instigated the build up to the Iraq War. Until the day the U.S. invaded, I was anxious and upset about the train wreck I could see my country heading toward. On the day of the initial invasion, I remember feeling, for the very first time in my life, shame of my country. I did not want to go out in public that day. I felt as though all eyes were looking at me, blaming me. Of course, they weren’t but it didn’t make it feel any easier. It was a powerful and eye-opening lesson for me about political maneuvering and manipulation.

    • I can imagine that one would have been tough. I remember when Bush/Cheney were re-elected. That afternoon the German cousins called us in the US and without saying hello they screamed into the phone “Is your country crazy? What in the hell are they thinking?”

  2. We may not be directly responsible, but we are responsible for ensuring history does not repeat itself. We have a responsibility to know the truth, Native American genocide for example, of what has happened, and is happening, Israel/Palestine for example, in our names.

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