Vietnamese Student (Mis)Perceptions of the USA

Image courtesy of Nevada News & Views

I recently talked with a Vietnamese student who had studied in the US and was back home.  When I asked him about the experience of living there, one reply really stood out:  people are free and equal.  That answer jump-started my interior monologue, which quickly went into overdrive.  The first reply was Which people, in what ways, how, and why?

This response reminded me of the US party line, the stuff of cultural mythology, the American Dream, and all that jazz.  Such statements reflect 1) a lack of knowledge about the country before studying and living there, and 2) limited in country experience, regardless of how long the person is there.  It’s easy to hold false beliefs when one is sheltered (e.g., perhaps mostly Vietnamese and Vietnamese-American friends) and living in an echo chamber. 

This is not unlike many (most?) US Americans who are born into privilege and grow up thinking that the US is the land opportunity for everyone willing to work hard enough.  (There are millions of examples of people who are working very hard, as in multiple low-paying jobs, yet who continue to sink financially and in many other respects.) 

It also doesn’t take into account one’s social class, gender, or race.  Life is much better for people who look like me, i.e., white, and who had the kinds of advantages I had.  In other words, some US Americans are “freer” than others in the sense that they have more freedom of action, a greater chance to realize their potential, to find their ikigai, as it were. 

Since this is a blog post and not a feature article, a report, a book chapter, or a book (!), let me offer a few compelling examples that blow the notion that people (in the US) are free and equal out of the proverbial water. 

US life expectancy drops for second year in a row (22.12.17)

Extreme poverty returns to America (21.12.17) “We’re #1 in…” child poverty among peer countries.

Three Richest Americans Now Own More Wealth Than Bottom Half of US Combined: Report (8.11.17)

The US has a lot of money, but it does not look like a developed country (10.3.17)

All of the above was happening before Trump declared an all-out war on virtually everyone who is not part of the financial elite.