Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Why does America control Coca Cola?"

To an American, this may be an odd question. But to the average Paraguayan, it is completely legitimate. And why did I put that question in quotes? Well, because I was actually asked this question by a young Paraguayan named Carlos. That question, and so many others I have heard within the 4 months I have been in Paraguay, may seem like an innocent case of naivety on the surface, but after thinking about WHY Carlos would ask me something like that; a deeper social and economic issue arose.

Please take note here that, like all of my other blog entries, these are my experiences and my opinions. I will try to tread as lightly as I can on this subject without sacrificing my message. This entry has little to do with American corporations and the American government (which depending on who you are talking to are synonymous), but more to do with the face Americans paint on themselves from an international perspective.

Bueno… I am a politician. I am an ambassador. My name is Lisa Simpson, and I am from Springfield, USA. I am every American family. And if you have traveled outside of those beautiful United Sates of America, you have been too. So before I get too deep, let’s meet Carlos!

5 de Septiembre, and it’s about 23:00 hrs. Julie and I, on our amazing journey from Asuncion to Altos, are stranded in Ypacarai. There are no more buses, and the taxi cost Gs 70.000 (about $17). If we were in any other country in the world, I probably would have just paid the taxi the outrageous fair. But we are in Paraguay, and in Paraguay things work themselves out… tranquilopa.

Even in the quiet darkness of the street corner we were on, something about us screamed “Americans” (surprise, surprise). Maybe it was Julie’s blonde hair, or the enormous hiking pack I had on my back, who knows, but along came Carlos (at this point, it’s about midnight). Carlos is a native and proud Paraguayan, in his mid 20’s, who sells cell phones in Asuncion. That night, he would be the inspiration for this blog.

“Ustedes son Americanas!? Verdad?”

“Si,” Julie answers, and we begin talking to Carlos.

He proceeds to tell -more like teach- us about los Estados Unidos.

“America is in between Canada and Mexico! And you have 50 stars on your flag to represent your 50 states!”

“Si,” we answer, excited that he knows so much. Then, things go down hill. (This is going to seem really random, but literally this is what we talked about with Carlos for about an hour).

“…and Arnold Schwarzenegger is the governor of California. I like the Terminator. Sarah Connor is from American too. So is Chuck Norris, Mike Tyson, Michael Jackson (yes! Of course), and Evander Holyfield (I guess he likes boxing)… I’ve met a lot of Americans here, and Germans too; there are a lot of Germans. But Americans and Germans are different. German women have nice asses, and breasts too (he grabbed his ass to emphasis his point; I wish I had my camera). Americans are not as good-looking. They are all fat. Americans love to eat, right?”

“Umm, si?” we say.

“… You like hamburgers, and pizza, and French fries. Oh, and you like Coca Cola! I love Coca Cola. Americans are all rich. You have a lot of money, and you control everything. The world is yours. You even control Coca Cola! Why does America control Coca Cola?!”

Something changed in my mind at that moment, with that question. While I was trying to explain to Carlos in my bad Spanish that Coca Cola is an American corporation, I realized that my words could, and most likely would be repeated over and over again throughout Ypacarai, Asuncion, and the whole of Paraguay.

I was not surprised at all at what Carlos knew, or thought he knew, about America. But I felt bad that he had such a limited, and odd, collections of ideas. At first, the thought of “educating” people like him seemed like a daunting task. Who am I to say, “No Carlos, actually…” But as an American, with all of the education and opportunities I have been afforded, it is my duty to not “preach” the truth, as I see it, but to “share” my experiences and knowledge. My truth is that yes, as a human, the world is mine… and with this ownership comes responsibility. The U.S. has amazing organizations, like the Peace Corps, whose soul purpose is to help others, spread “good”, and exchange culture. But it does not end there. Every time someone leaves their native soil for a foreign land, they have the opportunity to be an ambassador for good. Every time you meet someone within our borders that is from another country, you have the chance to be a “tour guide” so-to-speak. It’s the butterfly effect (eh, I didn’t want to use that analogy). But your actions and comments, or lack of action, says SO many things about not only you but America as a whole. I am not trying to scare you away from interacting with others; on the contrary, I am trying to encourage you to take on this unique and special role.

So Julie called me the other day to tell me that she was passing through Ypacarai on the bus, and she couldn’t help but look out her window at “our” corner for Carlos. Wherever you are Carols, I hope you learned a little bit from Julie and me. We aren’t German, but I think we are pretty cool, and I hope you had fun with us. I’ll tell Arnold, Sarah, Chuck, Mike, Michael, and Evander you said “Hola” when I get back to the States.

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