Let’s turn the clock back to 1958, fifty-five years ago. In April of that year, a dramatic event occurred in Lima. U.S. Vice-President Richard Nixon visited Peru as a part of a world tour to “build good will.” It didn’t turn out that way. An ill advised visit by Mr. Nixon to San Marcos University in Lima resulted in a virulent anti-American riot; Nixon and his car were showered with rotten fruits, vegetables and stones.
It got even worse when he went on to Caracas, Venezuela, where his life was actually in danger. What the mob professed to hate wasn’t Mr. Nixon personally, but the country he represented.
Six years later, I was living in Bolivia. Walking down the street in the small city where I lived, I often heard comments like “Abajo con el imperialismo yanqui [Down with Yankee imperialism]” or “Fuera con los yanquis [Out with the Yanks].”
At the university where I taught, some students would glare at me with hostility. None of these people knew me. Their feelings were impersonal, directed at who I represented rather than who I was. On the other hand, those who knew me, my students and friends, treated me with courtesy and affection.
It was a strange experience for me. I was identified with what some considered to be an evil empire. Yet, as far as I knew, I had never knowingly exploited anyone. I was innocent, a good guy. I had even come as a volunteer to help. Even so, people I did not know were labeling me as an imperialist, an exploiter of the masses.
“You don’t know me!” I thought to myself.
It was painful to be treated that way, but I learned something important: this must be what it is like to be an African-American or any other minority in the U.S. I could be good, intelligent, caring, and it didn’t matter, because people who don’t know me still will put a negative label on me. Furthermore, there is nothing I can do about it. To be honest, the slight discomfort I felt was nothing compared to what these groups have experienced all their lives.
Of course, that was long ago and the international atmosphere has changed. The cold war ended. So-called “developing countries” really started developing. As they did so, the spotlight of domination by one country has faded. So much so, that major representatives of the government, such as President George Bush or Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, could now visit Peru with little more than a ripple of publicity in the media.
Well, I think that is the way it should be. Living as an expatriate in another country I do not want to worry about encountering an angry mob. I don’t want people shouting angry slogans at me. I want to live in a world where all people are respected and those who are innocent are not labeled by hate words.
A vanishing country? Not really a bad thing, is it?