Why I feel lucky to be American

“Do you know HOW DAMN LUCKY you are to live here? You should be more grateful.”

Rarely a week went by when I didn’t hear this phrase growing up. My parents grew up — and suffered greatly — during the turbulent, violent Cultural Revolution in China. They immigrated to the United States as graduate students in 1987 so that they could safely speak openly and honestly, and in hopes of one day raising children in a truly free country.

To them, I never seemed grateful enough — for my education, for my food, for a roof over my head — and as a child, I thought my parents were just being overly dramatic. It wasn’t until I lived in China on my own, where the legacy and consequences of the Cultural Revolution still live on, that I finally understood just how good I had it.

I truly was lucky to be born an American.

So on this Fourth of July, I’d like to say: Thanks Mom and Dad, and Thanks America — You’ve given me so many incredible opportunities and a life I would never have known in China.

Freedom of Speech 

To be able to express my views and speak my mind without fear of persecution is an incredible, and under-appreciated, privilege. Those brave enough to be dissidents in China…simply disappear. We were all relieved when my Dad received his American citizenship, as he is incredibly outspoken and we were afraid one day his words would have serious consequences. Now with an American passport, should he ever seriously piss them off, the worst thing China could do is simply deport him.

Freedom of Information

You think the Great Firewall is a pain in the ass to get around? Try living behind it and not even knowing what you’re missing. I appreciate that in America, I can hear both sides of an argument, and not be told what I must think. When the government does something wrong, when a corrupt official is exposed, when there is a food scandal: the American people hear about it.

Living under censorship is like going through life reading nothing but redacted Army letters: you know you’re not the getting the whole story, but there’s nothing you can do, and it’s incredibly frustrating.

Exposure to Western Food

Thanks to growing up in America, I developed a diverse palate and ate dairy and bread — two food groups that don’t really exist in the Chinese diet. My parents only cooked Shanghainese food (which I love, don’t get me wrong; they’re excellent cooks) but if it weren’t for 12 years of American school lunches, I don’t think I would love or appreciate Western dishes like lasagna or Caesar salad nearly as much. Still can’t get into cheese though.

Also, a well-balanced diet means I grew up taller and broader compared to most Chinese women. To them I may look like a monster, but I like to think I look healthy, instead of a calcium-lacking stick.

Credit for Trying

Asians have one of the highest rates of depression and suicide, partly due to the pressure put on everyone to succeed and excel. If I came home with anything less than an A+, I was reprimanded; when I did get an A+, I got nothing. To many Asian parents, you don’t get credit for trying, and you shouldn’t be applauded for succeeding because you should just always be the best.

As I grew older, I adopted the American idea of, “It’s okay so long as you tried and gave it your best.” My best might not have been good enough in China, and I shudder to think of the low self-esteem I’d still have today.

Different Set of Values

The Chinese put a lot of emphasis on having a male heir, and having tangible symbols of wealth: fancy cars, expensive handbags, etc. Luckily my parents aren’t like that anyway, but I still shudder to think that I could have ended up just another superficial ladder-climbing Shanghainese.

Racial Equality

Growing up in a very diverse community — mostly Caucasian, but there were also African-Americans and Hispanics at school — means I don’t really notice race. Growing up in China would have meant a homogenized racial identity, meaning I would be staring at every white person on the street.

Culture

Bonfires. Hometown diners. Wholesale clubs. Hersheypark. Drives through the country. Mini golf. Homecoming. Peach cobbler. Disney. Funnel cake. The York County Fair. Fundraisers. Giving to charity. Thanksgiving. CHRISTMAS.

Safety and Healthcare

If I were caught in a burning building, I know firemen would come relatively quickly.
If I get run over by a car, I know someone would probably help me get to the hospital.
If I’m in a 50-story building, I don’t have to wonder about the workmanship and if it would hold during an earthquake.
If I get food from a street cart, I know it probably won’t be laced with melamine.
If I go for a walk, my lungs will be filled with fresh air from the clear skies, and not pollution particles from a constant haze.
If I go to the hospital with a fractured foot, I know the hospital will be up to code, I’ll get medical treatment from this decade; and the doctor will treat me like everyone else, not better or worse based on how much my family can bribe him.

Exposure to Religion 

I’m not religious, nor are my parents — but they still sent me to a Presbyterian church as a child to make sure I was exposed to good values and good people. When I got older I left the church, but I’ve always appreciated that I was able to experience it (it truly was full of genuinely good people; there were no politics involved); and had the freedom to choose, or not choose, a religion.

Working Hard = Success

The concept of, “It’s not what you know, but who you know” is universal, but more true in some countries than others. In America, those who work hard become valedictorian, become manager, become president. In China so much rides on guangxi, or personal relationships and using who you know, that often people who don’t deserve certain opportunities get them anyway because daddy happens to know a guy.

Language

The job market is pretty much my oyster as a native English speaker. People will pay me ludicrous amounts of money to teach English; I never have to worry about being rejected for a job because I can’t speak English. When I travel to other countries, other people speak my language — I’m not saying this is good or bad, that’s a separate argument — but I have to admit it’s convenient.

That Little Blue Passport

I am absolutely in love with my passport. It means I am free to travel to almost anywhere in the world; instead of long, drawn-out, expensive visa processes or exhaustive embassy interviews, I painlessly receive simple tourist visas to countries like the UK and Australia. To me, it’s one of the ultimate symbols of my freedom and I am so grateful every time I look at that eagle on the cover.

The American Dream

In this wonderful country of opportunity, my parents were able to become a professor and a nurse — and through that, they were able to give my sister and me the life they never had. We had pets, we had a pool in the backyard, we each had a car; I had sleepovers and Girl Scouts and trips to the beach and Disneyworld. I never wanted for anything. I am truly lucky.

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Comments

  1. Jills says:

    Love it, Edna! We have so many reasons to be grateful. Happy Fourth of July!

  2. vintagekaren says:

    So appreciated this post!!! Having been born in the U.S. in a small NY town, I never realized how good life was until I got older and learned about life in other countries. The U.S. certainly has many problems and faults, but I know now that I had opportunities I might not have had elsewhere. Happy 4th to you!

    • Edna says:

      Thanks, I agree — I used to rag on life in small-town PA, never knowing how good we had it. Hope you had a great 4th!

  3. Erica says:

    I’ve been thinking about how grateful I am to be American, too. The political situation in Japan right now completely breaks my heart and actually got me interested in politics. I think it’s a good example of what can happen- even in a democratic country- when citizens don’t actively participate. And the political humor here is pathetic, too. SNL in Japan makes fun of people’s hairstyles and clothing choices, not stupid or hypocritical things that they say… maybe there’s just too much of that kind of material to choose from?

    I’m also happy that you can always restart in the US. And that we celebrate differences. :)

    • Edna says:

      Thanks Erica, didn’t realize that’s how things are in Japan. Though SNL is going downhill in the US too… And yes, I love being able to make a new beginning, and celebrating differences!

      • Erica says:

        It’s starting to change- people are actually protesting in mass regarding the restarting of nuclear energy plants in Japan, but we’ll see how long the politicians can get away with by sliding behind the policies, system and traditions that they set up when the citizens let them have free reign.

        True story, but at least SNL hasn’t stooped down to making fun of just hairstyles and choice of suit*.

        *because, why would anyone wear anything else? ;)

  4. Very well written. I never knew how lucky I was to be an American until I moved to Hong Kong. It would do other Americans well to appreciate how lucky they are as well.

    • Edna says:

      Thanks Kelly. There’s a lot of ragging on America from other Americans so it’s nice to have a reminder every once in a while that life could be a lot worse.

  5. rbcsf1 says:

    Edna, well said and all so true; we’re so fortunate. Living in another country and being away on the day everyone celebrates being American does make you reflect on everything we have simply because of that fabulous blue passport. Viva la USA!

  6. Your parents’ story about making a better life for their family warms my heart. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never known hardships like in China (there’s that spoiled American upbringing!), but I’m a little harder on America that you are. America is still a relatively young country and I think has a lot still to learn.

    Living in Europe has reinforced my belief that America is a little too capitalistic and could stand to come together more for the good of its people. It talks a big game about freedom of speech, but censorship is rampant on the radio and tv. All people are supposed to be equal, but women are still paid less for doing the same job and homosexuals are in many places still not allowed to marry. Healthcare might be great, but one risks going bankrupt if they happen to get ill under anything less than stellar medical coverage. And talk about superficiality, visible pollution and getting somewhere because of who you know – come to California. It’s all there, in spades.

    America got off to a great start, now it needs to get back to the roots of where it started: offering people the opportunity for a better life.

    • Edna says:

      I totally agree Kate — there are still a lot of ways the US can improve, which I’ve realized since living in Singapore and Europe. And I’ve only ever spent a week in CA, but I can see how all those things would be rampant there (hello, Hollywood!). But still better one state than an entire nation’s mentality I think. Thanks for your comment :)

  7. Helin says:

    Thanks for including a JFK square photo :)

  8. Nicolle says:

    I love how you include a photo of Philly :-)
    Great post.

  9. travellingmo says:

    Great article! You truly put things into perspective. I never would have thought of all that and take most of the things you mentioned for granted because that is the world I’ve grown up in. Thanks!

    • Edna says:

      Thanks! I certainly take many of these things for granted as well, so it felt good to put things in perspective.

  10. Suzy says:

    I think the travel aspect alone is a reason to be lucky to to born in America. When you think of how hard it can be in some countries or under certain conditions, we should always appreciate the passport we hold. Great 4th of July reminder to appreciate being American.

    • Edna says:

      Not surprising, coming from a travel blogger :) I don’t think it’s the most important reason, but I do feel very lucky to be born with the blue passport.

  11. Good article Edna. I’ve lived for a total of 3 years in the US (two separate time spans) and it offered occured to me how Americans should be more appreciative of what they have.
    Coming from (and living in) Greece, I see things as being somewhere in the middle between the two countries you desctive. Lots of similarities with China though…

  12. I agree! Sometimes I think that for those of us who have parents or grandparents who chose the US to be their home, we have a different perspective about what it means to be patriotic. I don’t think anyone takes being an American for granted for precisely the reasons that you have here.

    My mother would like to add that there is relatively little fear of melamine ingestion — but you beat her to it ;-).

  13. Ann Mah says:

    I never truly appreciated being American until I lived in China for four years. I’ve found being an expat anywhere (but especially there) humbling and eye-opening, and felt a responsibility to represent the States accurately. It sounds like you’re a great ambassador, too!

  14. Susan says:

    Having just defending the USA for like 6 straight hours to a bus full of Europeans in Laos, I’m glad to see this. If I run into them again, I’m just going to give them this link…

    • Edna says:

      Well that does not sound like fun at all.

    • Amy says:

      To be fair, there’s nothing on this list that (Western) Europeans don’t have as well. Well, aside from American culture, but we have alternatives that are just as good! I think this list is more of a reason why a Western upbringing is an awesome thing, it works on more levels than just the American one :)

      That’s not to say the people you were talking to weren’t dicks, of course. Too many of those around.

  15. Edna says:

    Thanks Ann! I agree, I definitely feel that responsibility, especially in countries like China — or any country really where people have a lot of misconceptions about America.

  16. Michi says:

    I giggled at the opening part of your post, because your parents sound like my mom. She was constantly telling me how ungrateful I was, and how I had no idea how lucky I was.

    I, too, am proud to be an American, and am thankful everyday to my parents for making the choices they did. They opened wonderful life paths for me and did their absolute best to make sure their children would have many more opportunities than they ever had. We don’t really notice how much of a struggle it can be until we either live abroad and begin to see things in a different light, or until we’re much older. I suppose it’s what parents always say, “You’ll understand when you’re older.”

    • edna says:

      I totally agree with everything you said! Living abroad especially has really made all the difference. I don’t know that my relationship with my parents would be as strong as it is now if it weren’t for that.

  17. Dave says:

    It’s amazing the more and more we travel through Asia the more I understand how less and less people in the world could even do what we’re doing. They don’t have the money. They can’t get the visas. The reasons are plenty.

    Thanks for stopping over at our blog!

  18. Lorena says:

    yes,you are one of the luckiest people who lives in America, lots of people (like me) dream to visit America one day,even for a couple of days :(…so yes..be proud

    • edna says:

      I don’t live there at the moment, but I am still very grateful to have the passport. Safe travels and I hope you get the chance to visit one day!

  19. Jason says:

    Regarding the Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Information in China,don’t know why so many people think that it’s impossible to find about anything on the Chinese internet.

    If you can read Chinese, then by all means go browse some Chinese websites, you’ll see that most of the stuff you find on there isn’t any different from your typical American website. You can find people complaining about China and the government all the time. Most of the time you’re anonymous so no one can find out who you are, as long as you’re not publishing a book slandering the Chairman then you shouldn’t even worry about what you say. There are millions of Chinese blogs out there by people who voices their own opinions about many things, including the corruption of Chinese officials, which is common knowledge these days. They’re not idiots, they know how the internet works, they can find out about anything if they really want to…

  20. Jason says:

    And plus, Chinese internet users rank among the most in the World, they also illegally download movies and music, books more than any other country. I’m sure they know how to get by some stupid firewall and get any information they covet if they really want it.

    Just because some expats see Youtube and Blogger, 2 websites that most Chinese people could probably care less about, getting blocked doesn’t mean the whole internet is shut off.

  21. Thanks for reposting! I love this entry, so much.

  22. This is such a beautiful post. I think it’s easy to forget how good we have it in the States, because people are constantly complaining about everything that’s wrong with the country. I’m not saying we shouldn’t keep trying to treat people better and hold a better relationship with the rest of the world, but I do think people lose sight of how good they have it. Not everyone has parents to remind them of that – which is why I think it’s so important to travel. See the rest of the world, how they live and don’t compare, but definitely appreciate the things we have at home.

  23. Kaccie says:

    Just wanted to say that I’m very glad you are speaking out, and I’m so happy to see so many people commenting on your post. I’m Asian-American as well, and all this sound all too familiar! I’ve experienced many of the same things living and working abroad in the Netherlands. I kind of wished there’s more stuff out there from a guy’s perspective as well. I guess we tend not to enjoy writing as much… but this piece definitely has planted a seed in my head to start my own blog on my experiences. One day, I hope to see our experiences turn into formal entries in say study abroad-type brochures and formal literature at our Universities.

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