I am somewhat of an anomaly here in Buenos Aires. At the risk of sounding boastful, I get lots of compliments on my Spanish. Still, people can detect my accent and tell that I am foreign, but they can’t quite seem to guess where I am from. The usual guesses are France, Italy, Germany; I’ve even been asked if I was Brazilian. “Soy de los Estados Unidos.” I tell them with newfound patriotism. “I’m from the United States.”
My mom and dad are worried that I like Argentina too much and I’ll never come home. All this gushing I have done has them nervous.
I left home for the first time when I was 18. I moved 100 miles away from Charleston to go be a Gamecock for the next four years. During that time I traveled all over the Americas and experienced all sorts of culture shock and expanded my worldview exponentially. And since then, my sense of home has never quite been the same. If anything, leaving home has tied me all the more to it.
When you haven’t been anywhere else, you don’t understand what makes home special. You don’t have anything to compare it to. You don’t think you have an accent. You find yourself neutral in your environment. But then moving, even just 100 miles away within the same state makes you notice the little incongruities between here and there and you start to realize how deeply embedded into you home really is.
These are all exaggerated here, where all is new: language, customs, even the sheer size of this place. Yes, it is a great, big, awesome adventure and I am loving it. But let me tell you a little story.
Last week Batman was released here in Argentina, a few days behind the North American release. Stacey and I went to see a matinee. There is a scene that takes place in a football stadium and the national anthem is sung from beginning to end. I have never considered myself the most patriotic person in the world. (It just seemed a little silly to be proud to be American since I didn’t choose to be born there. . . it just kind of happened to me.) And yet I was sitting in that theatre, getting all choked up at the sight of American football and the beautiful sound of the Star Spangled Banner and of familiar actors speaking English. And I just sat there, stunned at my own emotions, wondering “WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME???”
Later that same night was the opening ceremony of the Olympics and Stacey and I watched, still high on Batman’s patriotic references. I cheered happily as some of my favorite countries marched in. First Argentina, later Nicaragua and then Peru… And then finally team USA comes into view and Stacey and I found ourselves singing “America the Beautiful” at the top of our lungs to everyone in our apartment complex. Weird, right?
And it is undeniable how excited I get at the sound of English on the subway or finding another American in this massive city. I have both approached and been approached by other Americans just for speaking English in public. Though we might have nothing else in common, we have our heritage. Far from home and family, you’d be surprised at how much that amounts to and the comfort that it brings. I guess the farther these branches grow, the deeper the roots dig into their South Carolina soil.
So don’t worry, Mom and Dad. It doesn’t matter how much I love it here, how firmly Buenos Aires grasps onto my heart. That doesn’t change the long days spent on Isle of Palms or the Christmas Eve crab legs. The cultural lens through which I see the world has always been and will always be Charleston, South Carolina in the United States of America.
No amount of distance or language goofs or foreign friends is going to change that.