Ah, the Fourth of July, the birth of our nation. Today we will revel in our nation’s history and uniqueness. Today we will proclaim loudly that we are Americans.
The second goal of the Peace Corps is to show the true face of America to other nations. We hope to change the bad images illuminated by the seminal book, “The Ugly American.” We are to show other peoples our desire to be of help, our friendship, our common cause and our good will.
But we still see in the world today open hostility to America and its people in many lands. We ask ourselves why do so many harbor ill will toward us? We have given much of our lives, blood and fortune to help others so why do they reply with anger?
As Peace Corps Volunteers we do show our willingness to help and live in the same conditions as our hosts. But in the course of doing so we also show our biases, unfounded fears, criticisms, preferences, chauvinism, and other less favorable faces. In essence we are no less imperfect than anyone else, we are as human as anyone.
Perhaps it is not so much how imperfect we may be that leads to bad images but the mind of the host who views us. Perhaps the problem does not lie in our presentation but in the receptor’s mind. In other words, there may be a predisposition that, no matter how hard we try, continues to rule the receptor’s mind.
In spite of providing the military assistance that was the critical element in our successful revolution and giving us that icon of America, the Statue of Liberty, many American still have unfavorable images of the French. In spite of having undergone a thorough rehabilitation and dedication to democratic principles many Americans still view Germans and Japanese as closet imperialists. In spite of being a friendly neighbor since our war in 1848 many Americans still view Mexicans as having an insidious plan to retake the lands they lost to us, this time through illegal immigration. I would suggest that no matter how hard they try these people will always be stigmatized by many Americans.
In sum, we set a goal that we may never achieve, to present a more favorable image to all the people of the world. Perhaps we should settle for understanding that some will always fault us. However, we can take comfort as RPCVs or as any American that our country does stand for some powerful principles established on the Fourth of July 1776.