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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Fear and hoping in America

    I awoke as my plane pulled up to the Hartsfield-Jackson International airport in Atlanta.

    The UA Study Abroad Student Handbook had warned me about culture shock, and here it was.

    I waited in line at the airport’s immigration area, proudly wearing a Florence shirt and an Amsterdam cap, proving I was both an international traveler and a good materialistic American. I was called up to a booth where a man silently took my passport.

    He thumbed through the pages and looked at the stamps from my journey: England, France, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium. I had a big shit-eating grin on my face as I stood there, eager to answer any questions he had for me.

    He looked at the picture, up at me, and then back down at the picture.

    “”Welcome back,”” he said without any sentiment, in a soft, monotone voice, handing back my passport. “”Next.””

    After going through customs, a bit disappointed by my American welcome, I re-checked my bags and headed up to the terminals to wait for my connecting flight to Phoenix.

    I stood on the escalator wishing I could swiftly walk up the steps on the left side, but the size of the other Americans, and teenage girls intensely focused on their text messaging, were blocking my path.

    After an anxious ascent that seemed to take ages, I stepped off the escalator to a man’s voice over the PA system, alerting me that the current Homeland Security level was orange. I was home all right.

    I was like a deer in headlights as I walked past a TV monitor with CNN broadcasting the evening “”news.”” There was Lou Dobbs in all his glory, digital American flags waving in the background, spitting the self-loathing and masturbatory crap that makes up broadcast American media. I swear that if space aliens picked up American news, they would think America was its own planet.

    I snapped out of Dobbs’ intense stare and the hypnotic waving digital flags and finally made my way to airport’s smoking section, where I sat across from an unattractive, overweight man wearing a green T-shirt with orange lettering reading, “”Get With Me.””

    The man next to me, wearing a cowboy hat and a T-shirt with the American flag on it, tucked into his tight pants, was yelling into his phone “”You bet, call me back motha fucka!”” in a heavy Southern accent.

    I looked around the room and made a sad observation: No one was smiling. Everyone sat silent, lost in thought, except those on their cell phones. It was almost as if everyone was afraid of everybody else. There was a nervous tension in the air amid the smoke.

    Everywhere I went in Europe, strangers were eager to begin a conversation, even extending out of their native tongues to speak with me.

    I picked up a copy of an abandoned newspaper and briefly read headlines of murder, more gun rights and news of increased e-mail surveillance, before tossing it back, as if it held a disease.

    I put out my cigarette and it dawned on me that I hadn’t showered in days. I had spent the previous night in Paris’s Charles de Gaulle Airport, and on top of 20 hours of travel, I knew I have must have looked disgusting.

    I went into a restroom and began to splash water on my face.

    A bittersweet song by Dido was playing loudly in the restroom. She sweetly sang something about going “”down with this ship.””

    The tap water began to mix with my own tears.

    There I was back home, crying and fearful like a little boy who had lost his mother.

    Now don’t get me wrong. I love America. Throughout my journey overseas, I constantly defended the people of our great melting-pot. I shared the reasons I feel have brought us to where we stand today. I expressed the challenges we face living in a post 9/11 society and I bragged about our potential.

    Hell, I stood on a bar in Belgium and sang along to Springsteen’s “”Born in the USA,”” at the top of my lungs, on the Fourth of July. If that doesn’t make me a patriot, I don’t know what does.

    But after looking at our nation from the outside in, I am also deeply concerned with where we stand. In the two hours I spent in that airport, I had one conversation. It was with a woman, wearing an Army uniform, venting about the status of her flight and her fear of terrorists.

    I witnessed airport security having to firmly insist that a young man give up his seat to a tired elderly woman.

    Upon arriving back in Tucson, I called a friend wanting to meet up. But I learned his car was in the shop – the result of a hit-and-run – and he was facing a steep deductible.

    I called another friend, but learned she was recovering from getting drugged at a party.

    The next night, I eagerly went out with a friend who had studied abroad last summer. After arriving at the bar, she realized she had forgotten her ID. Because, god forbid anyone under 21 drink in this country, we went to her house to retrieve it. But when we returned, we found a horrific scene: fire trucks, ambulances and numerous police cars. We learned a bar fight escalated to attempted murder in the parking lot.

    Are we happy as a nation? Do we live in unity? Are we at peace with ourselves or are we living in fear?

    I think every American should look deep into themselves and ask these questions. I feel we need to do so in order to save this ship.

    We are taught as school children that America is the greatest country in the world. While I do believe we are a great nation, I also know we have the potential to be better.

    I have learned so much from the way people live in other parts of the world. I admired the pride, passion and tight-knit families of the Italians, the freedoms, friendliness and laid-back attitude of the Dutch, the unity and honor of the English and the French.

    But I also learned about America. By listening to citizens of other countries, I’ve learned how we Americans are viewed in other parts of the world. Unfortunately, it’s not pretty at the moment and we are being watched closely by other nations.

    Trust me, there is a wide world beyond our shores. America is not an island and our actions affect the rest of the world. They’ve grown tired of our current administrations, and our “”We’ll do whatever the hell we want and damn the rest”” attitude.

    After studying abroad, I am more patriotic then I ever have been. But with my new sense of patriotism comes a great sense of responsibility.

    My travels meant a lot of different things to me, but a large sense of it is a call to arms. To look deep into my American heart and mind, and to find peace within. To wear an American flag, not on my shirt, but in my heart, with pride, confidence and hope. It is my wish that my fellow Americans will find their reason to do the same, so that once again, we can be the great nation we were taught we were, as children, together singing the Star Spangled Banner before school.

    – Evan Pellegrino is a journalism senior. He can be

    reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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