Bel Air, MD

I Don’t Feel Like An American Anymore

Tom Kuegler

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As I looked around the Urgent Care center yesterday I saw a bunch of Americans in front of me.

Americans living their life.

I live in Bel Air, Maryland, and many folks from this area have a certain accent. We jumble words together. The women say “hun!” a lot. We have our own personalities and cultural norms.

What I’ve realized from living in the Philippines for 2 years is the way we interact with people is more a product of our environment than our personality.

Why do many people from Bel Air, Maryland sound similar? Why do so many Filipinos sing karaoke at big gatherings? Why do Baltimore people typically love the Ravens?

It’s all a product of where we live.

I’m an American who doesn’t live in America anymore. If I had it my way, I wouldn’t live in America ever again, and I’ve changed since I moved away.

I’ve lived in San Francisco, seen 23 states, traveled all around Southeast Asia, and I’ve seen drastic differences in beliefs, cultures, and political opinions.

Since living in the Philippines for the last two years, I’ve forgotten how to “American.”

As I sat at urgent care yesterday, I talked with a nurse who wanted to go to Southeast Asia. Her eyes lit up at the sound of Bali, Vietnam, and Thailand. I wondered whether she’d be any different if she lived there full time. The answer?

Of course she would.

If she spent more than 2 months away she’d come back home and experience reverse culture shock. Her body would be here, but her mind would be back in Asia. She would have changed, and it’s crazy how once we’ve changed, we feel like a stranger in our own land.

This experience could happen to anybody. I’m not special. I don’t see things nobody else has seen. I’m just able to do things many probably want to do but can’t.

Yesterday I watched a bunch of people storm the Capitol building in the United States. It’s hard to remember a day that was ANYTHING like this one in recent memory. Growing up I watched the twin towers fall on September 11.

I’m not equivocating the two days, but this was definitely domestic terrorism and a flat-out show of disrespect towards America by its own citizens. I’ve never seen anything like it.

I’ve seen some crazy stuff happen in America, but perhaps it’s even crazier when you’re grown up and you know the stakes.

What makes it even more surreal is looking upon these images and feeling like a stranger in my own land.

I felt like an outsider watching the news yesterday. I don’t know what to think of that.

My Mom asked me who I wanted to vote for three months ago. I hate to admit this, but choosing was like flipping a fucking coin. I didn’t care, nor did I feel my vote really counted. It seemed like the most nonchalant thing I ever did.

One candidate had a crazy mind, and the other candidate was losing his mind.

And everybody in America was fighting vehemently over which one was best.

You want to know what I see when I look at America? People who don’t understand how good they have it.

In many ways I believe people are spoiled here. I’ve seen some ridiculous poverty in the Philippines and I’ve also seen governments over there that hardly care what happens to the people beneath them.

I’ve seen real tyranny, oppression, and injustice. The difference is the people over there don’t speak up about injustice as much as we do. I admire Americans who do that. I really do.

But we have it great here, mostly. I’m not saying everybody is living in some paradise and nobody struggles. But at least we have a government that’s concerned about helping people up out of poverty and giving us money when we’re jobless.

It’s hard for people to see unless they go to a third-world country.

The madness. The entitlement. The mountains out of molehills. The racism. The sexism. The tribalism. The fact-deniers. The proud.

The land of the free and the home of the brave. Yeah, right.

Freedom and bravery have been put on a pedestal in America. Back in April of last year we had people protesting because they didn’t like face mask requirements. “Freedom!” they shouted.

Meanwhile in the Philippines people did their damn duty as citizens to help and protect each other. Look at the COVID numbers between the two countries right now, will you?

What’s the use of freedom when it kills people?

As I look at my countrymen, even though they don’t feel like my countrymen anymore, all these thoughts swirl in my head.

They’re so busy with their lives. They’re so busy listening to what they’re told to believe. All countries are pretty much the same. A collection of people. A facade of shared ideas to get behind. And many get behind them without a second thought.

What happens when that facade is broken?

Is what you believe really what YOU believe? Or is it something you were taught to believe? Once you go to another country and see what things the people there believe — once you start loving another place that isn’t your home — there is no going back.

I don’t feel like an American anymore.

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