My friend Rodri and his cousin came over last night. We had meant to devise some sort of plan for the evening, but really just ended up talking until late in the night, far too late to really think about doing anything besides going to sleep.
The conversation ranged over a hundred topics, but for much of the time we talked about America.
One thing I’ve come to understand is that there is a certain duality regarding thoughts towards the United States. On the one hand they see it as the land of opportunity, where everybody — everybody — has a chance to make it, and on the other Rodri saw the Obama sticker on my computer and told me that he thought Americans were too racist to elect a black president.
These people are very cognizant of America’s sordid history with their region. It is now a matter of public record, and they are very well aware that their own country was used as the center of activities for Operation Condor, a Cold War intelligence outfit that suppressed socialism in South America by supporting brutal military dictators like Pinoche, Somoza, and their own Stroessner.
They are as jaded as Arthur Miller against the idea of the American Dream – Rodri has an uncle who is a US citizen, has been working the same job for 20 years, and still makes only about $200 a week.
They think George Bush is actually evil, the invasion of Iraq was a sham, and chuckle knowingly as the dollar continues to plummet against their Guarani.
But at the same time, Rodri’s cousin was brought, in a very literal sense, to the point of tears as she recalled a Starbucks Caramel Macchiatto. I am deadly serious – a caramel macchiatto from Starbucks.

Rodri was once denied a visa to visit the United States for no particular reason and he still considers it to have been personally injurious. He and his cousin both dream of living and working in the United States as soon as they can. Rodri’s cousin jokingly asked if she could marry me to get the papers, and then so did Rodri. Despite what they know of the history, despite what they have seen of relatives and in their own experience, in some abstract way America remains a city on a hill.

In a certain sense, we are very lucky. For whatever reason America seems to have immense reserves of capital in terms of good will. I don’t think it is unique to this region, but in many parts of the world America seems to have a complete, though inexplicable benefit of the doubt.

Is this not a tremendous opportunity? We have been given a second chance, really. I don’t want to sound preachy, and I could wax on ad nauseum, but I will simply end by saying this: The American image in the world may be tarnished, but isn’t yet beyond repair. Now is the time to change.

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