Since living in Spain, I have started to think more about my own culture. What does it mean to be American? It seems like everyone all around the world could tell me what they think it means if I asked, but I hesitate when answering questions about my culture because it took being away from it for seven months to really see what it is.
On the metro, as everyone is squeezed together like sardines in an airless can, touching backpacks, touching shoulders, touching feet, I often feel a disconnect from the human experience even though there are humans all around me. Everyone exists in their own bubbles of reality; through the music echoing through their headphones or the characters written in the pages of their books. I miss driving. Singing at the top of my lungs to the songs coming through my radio, having the windows down and pieces of my hair flying in every direction. I feel American because I grew up with so much space around me. Tight spaces can make me feel antsy, I miss the abundance of fresh air on my face.
When I am on a plane, staring out the window waiting for that familiar stomach plunging feeling of taking off thousands of feet into the air, I hear the whispers of families consoling their children. There are a million different ways to say “It will be okay.” Their soft, innocent hands grasping onto the sleeves of their mothers and fathers. Their words are foreign but their gestures are universal. Language sets us apart from one another, but human nature brings us together. I feel American because I am realizing the connectedness within the whole of humanity is bigger than the strong connectedness built on the power of nationalism in my country.
I walk upon city streets that are 1000s of years old, crafted during the beginnings of democracy, reaping in an extensive history of wars, plagues, destruction, and recreation. They are strong and hardy like an older man who bears the wrinkles of life, who has faded tattoos of old war stories but still has the courage to smile and believe in the future of civilization and the peace of death. I feel American because my whole life I have lived on fancy new streets yet to be bruised by injustice and the fight to retain freedom.
Sunny days at the park and life is blooming. Everyone is feeling the warm sun rays on their skin, absorbing Vitamin D and letting it flow into a smile. There is an air of calmness and tranquility. Work is nonexistent and time moves by more slowly like the world has stopped spinning for just one second and everyone is immortalized in an eternal portrait of bliss. Life is collective. Life is experienced with people. Life is about living and living well and not dreaming of living after retirement. I feel American because I was taught that hard work was the most valuable attribute of life. Sometimes I still have to tell myself that free time is okay and to stop and enjoy the smoothness of my breath as I lay out for hours on a blanket in the grass just breathing.
My life is not solely built on how many things I have, the language I speak, the streets I was born on, or the job that I go to every day. My life is built on the number of times I realize I am alive. To drift through life is not the same as to live life, and to live life has no rules, no guidelines, no specifications except to smile a lot, to love, to laugh, and to realize that despite the differences in how we were raised or where we were born, our core elements are all the same. We are human, and we are alive, therefore we are one.
I’ve found my culture by seeing other cultures unfold, by falling in love with difference and change but appreciating the life I once lived before I was here. I’ve fallen in love with life and I do not intend for this love to get dragged down even when I return to my country. I hope to let this love flourish and grow as I gain a new perspective while living once again on the streets I was born on, but I will always find my way back to change. I promise that.