How being American in New Zealand shines some light on the Commonwealth

Toward the end of a yoga class I was attending this morning, the sounds of a very exuberant… school band? church band? began wafting in from the building directly across the street. Crashing cymbals, clunky piano, and off-key singing, oh my!

Our teacher closed the windows on that side of our room but frankly, I was more inspired by the live music. Much more moving than the canned soundtrack I’m getting a bit tired of hearing at every class, week after week; good thing I’m there for the yoga, not the music 😉

After class I stood under a tree and listened to the band for several minutes, inexplicable tears in my eyes, while they thrashed their way through This Little Light of Mine.

Wanting to keep that light shining a bit longer, when I got home I discovered this:

Other than having seen recent headlines that apparently they’re thinking of moving to Vancouver Island, or is it Vancouver? — I am totally out of the loop. Had no idea they had gospel at their wedding, and I approve!

But I suspect that my ignorance of all things Royal makes me yet another kind of minority here.

***

Living in New Zealand has oddly shed a lot of light on aspects of my experiences living in Canada, where my mother is from. I suppose that shouldn’t come as a surprise given that both countries were colonized by the British, and are therefore part of the Commonwealth (aka the Commonwealth of Nations, formerly known as The British Commonwealth of Nations).

To a much lesser extent, living here has helped me recognize that certain experiences I’ve had in Hong Kong, where my father is from, are also the result of British influence.

Prefaced by some very substantive caveats (obviously not everyone is like this / I’ve observed far more similarities between New Zealand and Canada than New Zealand and Hong Kong / this is not an attempt to summarize ALL aspects of my experiences in those countries / etc), some of these common Commonwealth aspects I’ve noticed include:

  • British-style Tea as an Event (including varied, though always-specific personal expectations about preparing the beverage, and what to serve with it);
  • Less willingness to speak directly or engage in interpersonal conflict compared to my experience in the US, sometimes coupled with a bit more unexpressed intolerance of differing opinions;
  • A cultural commitment to remembering the lives lost during the first World War;
  • A sense that anything British is better than anything that might have been there before the British arrived (people / values / culture / animals / plants other than those deemed useful for selling back in Britain or elsewhere) or who might be arriving more recently, namely, immigrants from non-European countries;
  • An obsession with the British monarchy, including most recently the activities of Harry and Meghan… speaking of immigration.

The combination of these observations, plus several others that are much more subtle and difficult to articulate, have also given me a much stronger sense of my American-ness. Sometimes I even feel vague sense of pride that the American colonists of yore stood up to the British. It’s not constant, or concrete. “Pride” doesn’t even really feel like the appropriate word. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that it’s more a noticing that Americans chose a different path that resulted in some different outcomes, for better and for worse.

Most of what I feel as an American is a sense of shame that I am somehow representative of or responsible for the havoc wreaked around the world by American exports, including war and consumerist values. I cringe every time someone points out that something I tend to do is “so American.”

And I cringe even more when people here lump all Americans together when making an observation. Clearly they don’t understand that the US is an enormous AND enormously diverse country. No, not every single person in the country keeps the tap running while washing dishes, and no we certainly don’t all support our current president any more than all citizens of Commonwealth countries are the same or love the Queen.

I hold out hope that my particular way of being may help demonstrate that not ALL Americans are that bad, even if we do sometimes share some cultural similarities to each other, and even to the mythical America that Americans and non-Americans alike cling to.

May we all let our lights shine, no matter where we are from or where we find ourselves living now.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.