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Monday, October 17, 2016

America The Beautiful, Again

I looked at myself in the mirror as I washed my hands: hair tousled and makeup-free, totally unremarkable except for a hint of my neon green bra underneath. (Note: it was technically called tequila-lime colored in the catalog). In the somewhat moderate Jakarta where I grew up, dressing like that could be considered a mortal sin and I would never, ever don such getup. Nevertheless, it'd be (almost) the same offense if I donned it in the so-called sin island of Bali. Both the locals and the foreigners would think I am cheap for blatantly flaunting my bra. Here, nobody even blinks an eye.

After my divorce filing, my friends and family all asked the same question: "Why don't you go home? You'll have us." True. I will have my friends and family. I will have the late night excursion to the beach on my scooter. I will have all the delicious cheap food that I want. I will have the freedom from paying so much tax. I will be free from worrying about scary presidential candidates, and the possible backlash that I would experience as an immigrant. I will be free from the questioning remarks "But honestly, maybe you don't want to admit that you come here because you want to come here?", to which I would exhaustedly explain over and over again that there is such thing as giving all your love to somebody, as absurd as it may sound. I could do that.

Yet if I do, I will lose a lot of things too. I will lose the convenience of tap water, which after my 3+ years living here I still have not taken for granted. I will lose the ease of borrowing e-books and audiobooks online from LA Central library. I will lose the good customer service that I have been so accustomed to, the underlying feeling that as a customer I will get the best service, even as mundane as getting a $5 gift card because they didn't make my $2.50 coffee fast enough. I will lose the safety of paramedics and police officers and fire brigade and other first-responder services. I will lose the comfort and convenience of managing my money easily because the rules are pretty much laid clearly, and your money is protected. I will lose the freedom of being able to be who I really am. [I actually don't mind losing the health service here, but it's a whole different matter]. If I had to choose between going and take the easy (read: more laid-back) life back home and staying here in US with all the racial tension and anger and things that is not so great about US, I'd stay.

Without siding with any candidates, America is, and has always been, great. USA is a nation builds by hope and courage by a bunch of immigrants, a nation protected and upheld by the citizens whose loyalty are undeterred, a nation that continues to grow and become better, become a step ahead. As we embroiled so bitterly in or against the presidential candidates, it is important for us to stop and think: What is, in our mind, USA all about? Is it really defined by the hateful rhetoric? Is it really defined by fear and anguish? Is it really defined by distrust and discomfort? Is USA really that horrible, horrible place to be? Is it really a country so broken that another civil war would be welcomed?

I see the greatness of USA in the pride of my friend the ex-navy officer. I see the greatness of USA in the smile and greeting I receive each day through my 6-hour bus commute to and from work. I see the greatness of USA in the ease of checking my divorce status online, and the prospect of not even having to see the judge to have it finalized. It's everywhere, depends on where (and what you want) to see. The greatness of USA is in the protest of North Dakota pipelines, dubbed as "the largest gathering of indigenous nations in modern American history", or at protesters for college rape cases, or proud supporters of LGBT. The greatness of USA is in, like it or not, the protest staged by Colin Kaepernicks and such. Here we have people who are unafraid to voiced their opinion, and to do what they think is right. Here we have people who truly believe what a great country they live in, for better or for worse. Here we have opportunities and equality. Here we have people who can choose to live their passion, be who they want to be, instead of stuck doing things they don't like because they have no other choice. Isn't that great?

US is not perfect. Nothing is. No matter how often one talks about Finland's great education system, or about Canada's free healthcare, or about Denmark the happiest country on earth, they are not perfect themselves. Instead of looking out and daydream, instead of wishing for the boyfriend/girlfriend that we think we deserve, how about looking into what we have first? USA has its fair share of sleazy politicians and greedy corporate higher-ups, a fair share of police brutality and race/religion prejudice. USA also has a fair share of inequality, poverty, and other inaccessibility of service, either happened because of lack of infrastructure/system or due to plain indifference/ignorance. It's a place where people cling to their addiction, celebrity or fast food or (prescription) drugs or even the latest iPhones. But is it just USA? Or is it the world?

There is nothing wrong in wanting to have a better place to live, a place that can embodied our principles and approve of our thought and mindset. Yet it would be wrong to simply denounce the country and fellow citizens/residents just because it somehow doesn't fit with your ideals. It's the equivalent of talking trash over your loyal wife just because you don't like the way she picked her nose. It is not that simple, I know. Yet if we want to live in a place of harmony and peace, the first thing we should do is be harmonious and peaceful ourselves, and able to see the good. For when we are able to see the good side can only we find solution for the bad things we don't like.

With the election coming near, it is easy to be swayed or even drowned in the divisive rhetoric and inflaming words. It's easy to lose hope or to think "Either win or burn the thing to the ground". Yet in the end, US is not defined by which party or which candidate wins. US is, and has always been, defined by its people. US is great because its people are great, because USA as a nation is a diversified yet solid one, because the core of USA is equality for all. Is that not why the pilgrims were here? Let's look past November 8 and fast forward 2 weeks later, on November 24, the Thanksgiving day. What will you give thanks for this year? Let's be thankful for US and its people. Let's be thankful for the promise of equality and hope and opportunities. Let's be thankful for the rights we have, and the life we live. Let's be thankful, and then let's move forward. For we are what makes America great. For we are what moves America forward. And forever more, let America be the beautiful, again.

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