Elite Perceptions of the US

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After 9/11, people’s trust was lost and people began judging each other based on prejudices

PERU NGO

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My views of the US cannot be separated from my own experiences. Therefore, my response is an emotional one rather than an academic one.

As a child, growing up under a populist military dictatorship where the word imperialism was frequently used, my view of the US was similar to that of many left-leaning citizens. In short: the less we have to do with the US, the better. At the same time, I came to realize that one of my most trusted school teachers had lived in the US while accompanying her husband who was doing his master’s degree. I found that this had not changed her political views or the causes she believed in, making me realize that I should not aim to avoid ‘imperialist powers’ but rather focus on attending the best university – most probably located in the US. I put all my efforts into studying English, attending extracurricular lessons from the age of 13 and daily during my senior year in high school, with the objective of earning a scholarship to pursue graduate studies in the UK. Yes, the UK. Being granted a scholarship was the only way for me to achieve my goal since my middle-class family had to work hard to make ends meet – I do not remember any family trip or family vacation.

When the time came to apply for graduate studies, I decided to apply to American universities, hoping to get a Fulbright grant. I am now proud to be able to call myself a Fulbright grantee.

One of the first things that I learned while living in the US was that there is a huge difference between the US government and the US people, and that the US people are as diverse as can be. I also found that every individual holds the right to his/her opinion and to express it; that as long as you do not mess with the law, you can live peacefully and freely; and that people are generally trusting – unless someone gives you a reason to mistrust them. During my studies at a US university, I enjoyed library resources unheard of in Peru; wandering through the eleven-floor building holding the library collections was a unique experience and one that I truly miss!

…it makes me sad to observe the forms of political expression I am used to seeing in Peru - and which I hate

The respect afforded to institutions in the US was striking. I love watching the US president enter the floor of the US Congress for the annual State of the Union address. Everybody stands up and applauds, regardless of their political party affiliation or ideological position. However, this now appears to be changing and it makes me sad to observe the forms of political expression I am used to seeing in Peru - and which I hate.

The functioning of the US Supreme Court is also something that I hope my country will be able to one day emulate. It is an excellent example of the way powers are checked and balanced and people are trusted to perform their duties. For example, Supreme Court justices are expected to apply the law regardless of their own religious beliefs.

The way innovation is fostered in the US is one of the country’s defining features. As countries around the world attempt to implement free-trade agreements, fewer restrictions are placed on imports and many products are therefore now available around the world. One might think that this would mean that the variety of products on offer is similar regardless of where one lives but nothing further from the truth: shopping in the US is one of the most extraordinary experiences one can have because of the myriad of products available. And thanks to the internet, one can now access US-based online stores globally.

The US is no paradise though. I just want to pinpoint three issues: trust, health care, and gun ownership. After 9/11, people’s trust was lost and people began judging each other based on prejudices. For example, I cannot remember the number of times that I have been subjected to extra security checks - not random by any means or I should have won the lottery by now! Secondly, for some reason, not all Americans share the view that health care should be a right and not a service. If health care is considered a right then the resources for it would have to be provided for and facilitated by US citizens through state and federal budgets. Finally, I cannot understand how it can be so easy for people to buy and use weapons. Although the risk of being involved in any kind of mass shooting is slim, this fear is not felt when visiting Europe.

Having said that, if offered the chance would I move to the US? You bet!