“Este es el mejor país en todo el mundo, sin duda…”
The validity of this statement is something that I have been trying to come to terms with for quite some time. It has served me as a poignant reminder that everything is relative, and although I may not agree with the statement’s contents, some brief contextualizing of the messenger’s situation lays a credible foundation for such an assertion.
A Cuban asylum seeker said this statement in the midst of a conversation we were having about his motivations for leaving Cuba and my peculiar circumstance in America. It was cemented into my mind, the moment I heard it. “America is the best country in the world, without a doubt.” He made the remark with a tone of confidence and certainty which is ever so evident on individuals who have faced unimaginable hardships. As the gratitude of his new life washed over his beaten face, he gleamed with a countenance of hope that held him at the verge of tears.
In Cuba, he lived in conditions which one hopes to never echo into the United States. Poverty is the norm in Cuba. The stores are empty. There is no food. No profession can assure your well being. His family members are doctors and engineers, but the government takes 30% of their paychecks, leaving them with little to no money. Free speech is a dream. People are beaten, tortured, and killed for their political opinions, regularly. If he is deported, he will be held for treason, beaten, and tortured by the Cuban military. He told me that although he will always be Cuban, he will never go back willingly. The moment he finds a way to bring his brother and mother from Cuba to the United States, he will never look back again.
His story is merely one of the millions of shared experiences manifesting in Cuba, Venezuela, and other countries with similar conditions. Through their inexorable sea of despair, they have found refuge in the beacon of the “Shining City on a Hill.” Although such a beacon is deeply flawed, one must acknowledge that it serves as the necessary hope some need to continue their fight for existence.
When one views a country coming from his standpoint, any country with political freedom and some sort of democratic values becomes the best country in the world. It is truly surprising and quite disturbing to notice first hand the global reach America can have on others. This global image is a mere euphemism of our reality that quickly begins to dissolve once one learns of the deeper maladies plaguing our nation.
Last semester, my professor for our Congress to Candidacy class asked the room whether we believed America was the best country in the world. The majority of the class responded with a resounding yes, to my surprise. I mean, you would think that well-informed students would be able to acknowledge the atrocities this country was founded upon and continues to commit to others. I said no because a country founded upon the genocide of millions of Black and Brown souls, and economically fueled by centuries of their oppression and enslavement can never claim to the best country in the world. A country which murders thousands of civilians in foreign countries cannot claim to be the best country in the world. A country whose democracy has become inexorably linked to serving the goals of the wealthiest individuals and corporations cannot claim to be the best country in the world. A country where you are viewed as a criminal, treated as such, and have the very real possibility of becoming another state casualty for simply being Black or Brown cannot claim the title of being the best in the world. I could go on all day, but you get the point.
I still stand firm with my conviction that America is not the best country in the world. However, I believe that we have the capacity to become that shining city on a hill. We must continue criticizing what our country is and has been in order to inch towards accomplishing this honorable goal. From my four weeks of working at Catholic Charities Legal Services and helping asylum seekers, I have discovered a new appreciation for the basic human rights we take for granted. I also acknowledge that although America has her many, many faults, she is still the refuge thousands seek.