Saturday, February 11, 2012

Terrien: french ideals in application

Still reading Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong.  This chapter was about the tie the French feel to their land.  Wherever they are, where they are from means more--they are never from 'France' but from a region of France, as if the region they are from is really the country they are from.  The equivalent would be to say, Mon pays est de Los Angeles.  And yet I've been thinking about this a lot in the last few years of my life: being an American means very little.

The book quotes an instance when Charles de Gaulle said in an interview, "'How can anyone govern a country that has 246 kinds of cheese?'  What he meant was, 'How can anyone be expected to govern 246 different kinds of French?'" (21).  We don't think of Americanness in these terms, though we really ought to.  Because there are 50 states, about 300 cities of a population of more than 100,000, and between 30,000 and 35,000 cities and towns, depending on how interested you are in population, whether its "incorporated" etc.  And there are 196 countries in the world (give or take a few, depending on the year, who is deciding, who is at war, and whether or not we're being politically correct), and at least one person from every country is most likely represented in the United States whether they have been here a day or their family has been in here for generations.  An American can be any, and several of all of these elements mixed into ONE person.  Point being, in what way can we say "I'm American" with an meaning at all?

I'm not even a complex example of this, but see what I mean: I'm not just an American, I'm an American from Los Angeles, born of a Californian and a New Englander, a Westerner and an Easterner, a Mormon and a Congregationalist.  My ancestors come from Massachusetts, Maine, Utah, Canada, and before that England, Denmark, France, probably a thousand other places.  And we could try to narrow it down by saying I'm an American from Los Angeles.  But I was born in Culver City, and I grew up in West LA, and I went to school in Santa Monica, and I commuted the 405 for years, and I lived in the San Fernando Valley.  I went to church in Van Nuys, and the movies in Winnetka, Northridge, and Burbank.  I went shopping in Glendale, and I spent time with my friends in Reseda, or Lake Balboa, or Granada Hills.  We went to Downtown LA or Hollywood for shows, and Westwood for day-trips.  And we're still in Los Angeles.  But I have to tell you--those kids from Granada Hills were not my favorite, and we had dances with the kids from Canoga Park, but whenever I meet someone from there I don't particularly like them, I never went to Beverly Hills on my days off, and the Sherman Oaks people were always a little snooty.  North Hollywood was kind of a sketchy place to go, and I never got to know Studio City.  Yeah.  We're still in Los Angeles.  It also matters where you go to school in Los Angeles--Did you go to your homeschool?  Because that's odd.  I went to Elementary school in Culver City and Sherman Oaks, and Middle School was in Northridge and High School was in Lake Balboa/Van Nuys/Reseda--you could put any of those names on the envelope and it'd get sent.  And did you go to a public school or a private school? Was it a magnet or a charter?  Did it have an honors program?  What about a swim team, or a football team?  A robotics team or a Humanities magnet?  I mean WHAT KIND OF AN ANGELENO WERE YOU!?  How long did it take to get to school, or to your best friends place?  Yes--including traffic.  Do you like Mexicans?  What about Armenians?  Blacks?  Did you have all white people at your school?  Or all sorts of people?  Did you mistake the Salvadorans for Mexicans?  Did that get you in trouble?--Hope so.  I'm even going to get started on food.  And every person from Los Angeles who could possibly be reading this post right now would tell me about the hundred things I missed that makes people from Los Angeles different.  AND I KNOW.


Maybe there's one thing we agree on: How do you feel about LAUSD?


Point being, I'm hardly an American, and maybe the French have it right.  Because I don't know what the heck I am.  But if we're going to start somewhere, 'American' just doesn't cut it.  What does it tell you?  About some national loyalty?  Patriotism?  And I don't know if you can tell but I love mon pays.  I particularly love the part of it I know really well--the part of it I'm from, Los Angeles.  And I don't love all parts of America equally.  Because they're not mine.  And so I can understand that while this desert I live in is far more beautiful that most of what I saw every day in Los Angeles, it still can't win and it never will.  But because Los Angeles resides in the United States of America--I love America too.  It's just that . . . it doesn't mean as much.

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