Last Saturday, my husband John and I welcomed a couple of Chinese students into our home after dinner. Originally, we just talked turkey — or rather, the fact that we invited them over to our place for Thanksgiving. But when the topic came up, John and I had other turkeys in mind, such as the discrimination we faced barely a day before.
“You two should be careful around here,” I warned the two young Chinese men lounging on our sofa. “Americans aren’t always what they seem to be.” Okay, to be sure, I said these words when the incident — which kicked my husband and I virtually in the stomach — still simmered freshly in my mind. I know a lot of good Americans live in this world. But I suspected these students still carried a far too wholesome “Family Album USA” perspective of this country.
One of the Chinese guys looked genuinely puzzled. “I consider Americans to be very straightforward.”
“Not really,” my husband chimed in. “People don’t always say what they mean.” I knew John wanted to say much more, the way he would later with me — how difficult it was for him, at times, to win the trust of white people in this country. But he left it there.
“But Americans seem so simple and uncomplicated,” the Chinese student responded.
Simple? Uncomplicated? In light of what we just experienced, nothing could be further from the truth.
But, surely, didn’t I once hold simplistic views about China once upon a time? Didn’t I once mythologize that country and its people, until time, experiences and even learning the language created a new China in my mind? And even though I’m much more educated about China, I still have a lot to learn.
I guess I have a lot to learn, though, about my own country too. Once discrimination got dumped on my doorstep, in a form I never expected, I feel different about living here. Even as I write this entry, I’m creating new stories about the United States of America — and realizing that some of the old stories I clung to were really just mythology after all.
Have you ever mythologized another place or country? Or have your friends? How did you — or how did they — get it right or get it wrong?