“People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”
- Rodney Glen King (at an impromptu news conference in LA during the 1992 Los Angeles Riots)
Recently some students and I were talking about Halloween. One student expressed irritation over the fact that so many Portuguese were starting to celebrate Halloween as they already had their own equivalent holiday, Pão por Deus, celebrated on November 1st. Despite the fact that both holidays have similar origins, I could sympathize. Though the traditions of any given country changes and alter to varying degrees over time, it is sometimes difficult to adjust when the changes seem counter to your happy memories and future anticipation of rituals that you have come to love.
Another student laughingly mentioned that she preferred to ‘import’ Halloween from America rather than gun and other types of violence that is all too common in the USA. To illustrate an example of a negative ‘import from the US’, she mentioned a recent tragic event in Lisbon where some kid stabbed some students and a teacher’s assistant. The teacher assistant apparently died. The perpetrator had wanted to stage a mass shooting (like in the USA) but was unable to get hold of a gun.
Though I agree with her that I would choose trick or treating over a shooting, I felt like I was being kicked in the stomach while she was making her assertion. The implication appeared to be that the mass shooting phenomena that plagues the USA can somehow be seen as an ‘American thing’ similar to that of apple pie, baseball, Santa Claus or Halloween.
Though I recognize that the problem of mass shootings is a unique phenomenon to the States in terms of frequency and though I am terrified at how these acts of violence are seemingly becoming more prevalent in other parts in of the world, I find slipping gun violence in a category of an ‘American thing’ alongside other more wholesome things that appear in the US (e.g. Halloween, etc.) as a disrespect to the many wonderfully loving Americans who recognize this phenomenon as a problem and work to control it. Though I feel certain my student had no intention of making me feel uncomfortable, I couldn’t help but feel that she was perpetuating an anti-American sentiment.
As an American living in Portugal, I certainly have come up with more than my share of anti-American sentiments. The most memorable happened on 9/11 as I was teaching at a company in the Lisbon area. A whole group of us were watching on TV the unfolding of the 9/11 tragedy in the lobby of the company premises. One of my coworkers at the time, who happened to be Polish, walked by me after the second plane hit the second tower and said, ‘I just hope the US doesn’t do anything stupid.’
Well, we all know that the US government did do something stupid afterwards, but, at that moment when I was just hoping that my sister and that the many friends I had living there were safe, I found what she said devoid of taste and lacking of human sensitivity.
The fact was a good majority of Americans were against invading Afghanistan. The wars that America wages are systematically waged in the name of economics and political power. Most Americans are either brainwashed into accepting the lies or are adamantly opposed. Either way, most Americans feel powerless to do much – I’m sure most Portuguese can relate to that too.
So as Rodney King suggested back in 1992, let’s all just try to ‘get along’. Remember…we are all more alike than different.
Courtney How, Managing Director