You may know me as a fiercely loyal champion of the local and of the domestically made. So you might be surprised to learn that I used to shun America.
Aged eight and preparing for my ex-pat life, I favored British spellings and used the privilege of curating my own vocabulary tests to learn the names of obscure Scandinavian cities culled from an atlas. I refused to say the pledge of allegiance. Why, in a sea of patriots, did I need to chime in with proud appreciation for a country that had plenty of ego already?
You may know me as an obsessive traveler. This habit was seeded early by my parents who wanted to ensure that we knew the center of the world was not upstate New York, and its growth has in turn nurtured my late-blooming love of this country.
It started, perhaps, in Montreal, where I noticed the tension between French and Anglo heritage, the tug-of-war over language, sovereignty and style. And then Provence, where we sojourned not too long after the start of Iraq. Treated otherwise graciously, we were nonetheless seated in a separate dining room at our inn in Eygalieres. Those rowdy Americans — we jestingly lived up to our pigeon-holed status over bottles of white wine and fresh ravioli.
And then activism, high school, The New York Times. Such burdens the world carries, its denizens laboring to live each day through (let alone fully or freely).
Inward-facing once more, in college I ventured out in to the world on my own. Without the shield of family, outside the bubble of Williams, I saw worlds even farther from mine — and yet, closer. Feeling the passion and anger fueling feuds across Cyprus, fights and legends that have lived for hundreds of years. The fresh convalescence of proud people in Cambodia, generations rebuilding what was destroyed practically yesterday.
I still see that, as an American, I live in a place that is scarred and deeply flawed. But I am also I’m humbled and grateful, incredibly privileged. To help others see that — the gift of this nation — through the materials we transform and consume, exchange and exclaim over, is what I can do to honor that.