The year was 1980, and the U.S was going through some dramatic changes and some crucial events happened that would affect the entire world. I was 10 years old and the world started to feel much bigger than the 1,100 sq/ft home that I lived in. My parents had moved to Canada from Portugal and the Western way of living was still a shock to me. I remember as a small child before we moved to Portugal envisioning what life would be like in Canada. I remember vividly when my parents told me we were all moving to Canada. The one thing they emphasized was that Canada in the winter had lots of snow. Portugal only got snow in the winter in high elevations, the mountain regions in the north central of Portugal. There is a mountain in Portugal called Serra da Estrela (Star Mountain), it’s peak tops 6,539 feet. As a child that mountain was magical.
When my parents told me about the move to Canada, I envisioned a country always covered in snow. The houses were lit up with Christmas lights every day and everyone was always happy. There were no cars, Canadians got around on horse-drawn sleighs because of the amount of snow. It snowed every day, and Canadians loved it.
My siblings and I arrived in July of 1976. I can tell you now, there was no snow. The magic died very quickly. The other shock was that Canada had a neighbour who was richer, stronger and made really amazing movies. All I heard about was how amazing this neighbour was. I asked myself,
“Why didn’t we move there?”
Watching television was a new thing for me. I came from a country which only had one channel and it was government-owned. The content was lacking. Not so with our neighbours. There was always so much excitement. The best was the weekend cartoons. I grew up on The Flintstones, G.I Joe, Spiderman, Thundercats and my all-time favourite The Bugs Bunny Show. All of them came from the wonderful and brilliant neighbour called America. I remember how I was in awe when I first heard the American anthem. The words were so powerful. The Canadian anthem, was so boring and repetitive.
In 1980, America went through a lot. Here is a short list of the major events that happened that year, which would be engrained into my mind for life.
John Lennon is murdered
Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back is the most popular movie
Mount St. Helen’s erupts
Iran and Iraq go to war
Rubik’s cube becomes the most popular game in the world
Pac-Man arcade game is created
The best one though is, U.S.A wins the Olympic Gold medal for Hockey!
I remember sitting in my living room one foot away from the television staring at the screen watching history unfold. America was playing against their arch nemesis the Soviet Union. America stood for everything great. The Soviet Union was evil. Everyone thought America would lose, mainly because the Soviets had dominated the hockey tournament since 1960 when the U.S last won the Gold medal. The pressure was intense, I saw these young men fighting for their lives, fighting for freedom!! Here was a team assembled of college students, who had very little hockey experience. They had to come together, forget each other’s backgrounds and animosities and become united as one to take on the world. The last minutes of the gold medal game, all I could chant was…U.S.A!! U.S.A!!
I loved America.
One of the most influential TV shows in my pre-teen years was Three’s Company. I was in awe of Jack Tripper. He was so modern at the time. He was living in a 2-bedroom apartment with 2 other girls. Jack’s life seemed so happy and fulfilling, so much so that I wanted to become a chef. It ultimately made me love cooking. It also introduced me to California living. The people were always beautiful and the weather was perfect and no one was ever worried about anything, life was figured out in 30 minutes or less and the best part was, life was funny. How could one country have so much? Was it all real? No wonder everyone called it the American Dream, was it too good to be true? Not for me.
In a life filled with despair and ridicule, there was America. I remember watching the musical West Side Story for the first time. I fell in love with Theater. Here was a story of two people falling in love, it was the modern Romeo and Juliet, two people from different races, torn by society’s pressure, loyalty for their friends and the movie captured the class warfare that America had unleashed on their immigrants. Tony and Maria didn’t care, they fell in love and why should they care where they came from or how much money they had? They didn’t care about Race, Creed, Religion or financial status. In America love ruled over all. If you were in America, Love always beat Hate. The song that I would sing for months from the musical is, I want to be in America. I heard the song recently and now at my age I realized how much the musical isn’t about love at all, but about the systemic racism that still to this day runs through every street. The song tries to show how America is the place of magic, where your dreams come true, but only if you can get past the heartbreaking racism.
Here for you is the lyrics to read and for your enjoyment I have also included a link to the song. Reading the lyrics without the music is depressing, but when you watch the clip, you can’t help but smile, even if you know how painfully true the lyrics are.
I want to be in America.
Puerto Rico-My heart’s devotion
Let it sink back in the ocean
Always the hurricanes blowing
Always the population growing
And the money owing
And the sunlight streaming
And the natives steaming
I like the island Manhattan
Smoke on your pipe
And put that in!
I like to be in America
Okay by me in America
Everything free in America
For a small fee in America
Buying on credit is so nice
One look at us and they charge twice
I have my own washing machine
What will you have not to keep clean
Skyscrapers bloom in America
Cadillac’s zoom in America
Industry boom in America
Twelve in a room in America
Lots of new housing with more space
Lots of doors slamming in our face
I’ll get a terrace apartment
Better get rid of your accent
Life can be bright in America
If you can fight in America
Life is all right in America
If you’re a white in America
Here you are free and you have pride
Long as you stay on your own side
Free to be anything you choose
Free to wait tables and shine shoes
Everywhere grime in America
Organized crime in America
Terrible time in America
You forget I’m in America
I think I’ll go back to San Juan
I know a boat you can get on
Everyone there will give big cheer!
Everyone there will have moved here
I guess what I’m saying with all of this is that when you are younger the American Dream seems so magical. It gives you hope when you are young, something to strive for. Even when everyone around you tries to tarnish that dream, you can only hope that the American Dream will come alive for you. The problem is, the people living in America don’t believe in the dream.
Today I’m faced with the difficulty of trying to defend America from the on slot of criticism. When I was younger, I would always tell people how amazing America is and that the world would be so different then it is today if it wasn’t for America. America in the past stood up for the little guy.
Think of the world as a playground. In that playground you have 195 kids playing and some of those kids want to hurt and bully the other kids who just want to get along and play well together. Any time that the bullies tried to hurt the kids playing together there was one kid that would defend them and protect them.
America is a strong, well-educated, rich, good-looking kid. Everyone respects America. The bullies though, fear America. America wants everyone to play at any time and not worry about who is better or stronger. America would watch over everyone, day or night. When another kid was badly bullied and hurt by others, America would come and assist and make the kid feel better and help it get back on their feet. Even a kid who once was a bully and then realized it made a mistake, America forgave them. America believed everyone was deserving of compassion, that’s why America wore a shirt with these words on it for everyone to see:
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
Everyone who visits America or decides they want to live there, they have been told that in America, all people are made equal. At some point though, America has become jaded. It has stopped believing in themselves. The bullies can see the self-esteem issues America is having and they have decided to disrupt the playground. America needs to get things in order. Whether you and I like it or not, America became the symbol of hope for the rest of the world. When you stand for hope and others want to be a part of that hope, you have a responsibility to live up to it. If not, then stop doing what you are doing and step aside. There have been other countries learning from America for years and they may not be stronger, richer, or as good-looking but they have become smarter. They realize if they stand together they are strong and rich and by working together they can stand up to the bullies. The American Dream is broken. It is turning into a nightmare and if America doesn’t wake up soon, the world will never be the same.