America Through Our Eyes

Desert sky
Dream beneath the desert sky
The rivers run but soon run dry
We need new dreams tonight...

-- "In God's Country" by U2
animal crossing along highway 395, California
When Irish band U2 penned the song “In God’s Country” it was partly a result of their deep fascination with America: its wide, open spaces, its freedom and its ideals. Bono was always intrigued about what attracted so many of his own countrymen to migrate to the United States and spent a number of years touring the country and becoming inspired by its geography.

In many ways we share the same thoughts about America. Like Bono and U2 we often wonder why so many of our own countrymen would move heaven and earth to migrate to this country. We’ve visited the U.S. on a few occasions but in 2006 we moved to San Diego, California to live and work there for a brief period of time and got the chance to know America and its people more intimately.

view along Highway 395 with the eastern Sierra in the background
Driving along Highway 395, California with the Sierra Nevada mountains in the background

Bono’s reference to the wide-open spaces is as good as advertized. America is a place where you could drive on forever. We’ve gone on a few road trips in the western part of the country that took the whole day and then some - and those trips are not even considered long by American standards. The topography is quite diverse: from the beaches, coastal mountain ranges and redwood forests of the west coast to the rolling hills, forests and plains along the east coast. And that’s not including the tropical paradise of Hawaii and the dramatic scenery of Alaska. The numerous national and state parks ensure that the beauty of much of the U.S.’s scenery is preserved for future generations.
La Jolla Cove, San Diego, CA; Grand Canyon, Arizona; Washington Monument, Washington D.C.
Left to right: La Jolla Cove, San Diego, CA; Grand Canyon, Arizona;
Washington Monument, Washington D.C.

And then there are its cities. Since we lived in California it was imperative we got a car if we want to be able to move around (not so if you happen to live and work in New York City). However driving, even in the cities of California, is less stressful and more pleasant than in the streets of Metro Manila. (Leo always like to say that when you use your signal light in America drivers will let you pass. In Manila you don’t dare use your signal lights because when you do it has the opposite effect.) In America traffic rules are really traffic rules and not “suggestions” as they sometimes seem to be in the Philippines. It was very apparent that people were more disciplined and things were run more efficiently compared to home. America also offers more opportunities and social mobility for the average person. It seems that if you worked hard and developed your abilities the system will ultimately reward you – a welcome change from a culture where personal connections and political influence play a bigger role. No wonder so many Filipinos would rather work here.

Sleep comes like a drug
In God's country
Sad eyes, crooked crosses in God's country...

the Apple Store, New York City

There is much to like about America but, as with any other country, there are also some things that are left wanting. We missed the crowds and the smiles that greet us in the neighborhoods where we’ve stayed in the Philippines. We would walk outside our place in San Diego to be greeted by empty streets. It seems everyone was busy going about their own business, sometimes too busy for even a short chat. Many people value their time and privacy so much that it was considered impolite to drop by someone without first calling to set up an appointment – and often when you call it’s a voice mail that greets you. Many migrant workers we’ve talked to often tell us about the loneliness they felt during their first years in the country. We’ve felt a little of that too although we were more fortunate in that we already had some friends in San Diego even before we came over.

We left America in 2008 just about the time the country was beginning to feel the impact of economic recession. It was sad to see friends and acquaintances go through such a tough time – some of them losing their jobs and most seeing the value of their homes and retirement investments go plummeting down without being able to do much about it. During our time in America we’ve managed to live decently on a budget that might be considered too small by American standards. Perhaps it’s because we’ve lived in a country with a standard of living far lower than America’s. As a result we were able to appreciate the blessings we’ve received while living in a more affluent society - blessings such as the generosity of many friends who helped us make it through. All in all it was an experience that taught us much, enriched our journey and helped us value friendships even more.

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