Elizabeth Briel, Travel Artist

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It’s Not You, America. It’s Me

Senior class Photos

“There’s nothing wrong with you, it’s me,” is the unimaginative white lie tacked onto the end of too many relationships. Last time I said it was at a wine bar in Edinburgh during their Festival ten years ago, to some poor guy who’d flown out to meet me there. In a recent interview with Accidental Expats I explained why I left the US permanently: “the priorities of my birth country are not necessarily my own. Instead I seek to savor a few of the many experiences that the world offers in different locations.”

Priorities include retailer-driven holidays: Valentine’s Day, Christmas and Hallowe’en. As Kelsey Timmerman wrote, “Black Friday: The day the American Consumer takes full advantage of Cheap Labor around the World.” Where the focus is on sentiment and stuffing faces. Where stuff serves as a distraction from substance.

Thanksgiving’s a particularly ambivalent holiday for me. I went to school with kids from many different backgrounds. Some of my great-great-great grandparents fled European wars to live in the US, while my Hmong friends’ families had fled persecution that stemmed from the American war in Laos. Other friends’ ancestors had been brought over with fewer options: as slaves and indentured servants. Opportunism was in our genes and in our American mythology. But for some classmates, Thanksgiving was a reminder of what they had lost with the pestilence and the underhanded treaties that had squeezed their families onto reservations. Every year we had discussions about the less savory sides of our country’s history, which were rarely addressed in our textbooks.

Perhaps it’s because what American culture I do experience is online and more mainstream now, but I don’t hear much from those voices anymore. As I’ve said before, America’s not the only country with this problem: every time I walk to the train station I pass a mural depicting massacres of local people. I’ve spoken with Cuban painters about the island’s indigenous people who were completely exterminated by the Spanish. But while I’m thankful for so much in my life, as this writer puts it best, “Thanksgiving can never be just a day of thanks”

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