Sunday, August 17, 2008

World's Toughest Springboard

"We're all struggling here, black, Latino or white." Last Wednesday evening in a Californian living room The Financial Times reports on America's recession turned into worsening credit scores, houses put on sale, endless job hunts, rising numbers of violence at the local mall, spanking new cars losing half of their value in a matter of months and news about another friend being a subject of a radical layoff. The radical fall of the US economy is not just Bear Sterns and Fannie Mae, thebiggest price is paid in these living rooms.

I cannot help being blown away by America. Every visit makes me love it more and simultaneously leaves me more and more confused. I am realising ever clearer thatwe should not pretend like our lifestyles would be similar. Where Europe is safe and cosy, America is radical in its ups and downs - on the individual, local and national level. No European economy goes up and down like theirs and no European nation state contains the same diversity as the US. The New York Times featured earlier this week a research that by 2043 minorities will form the majority of the US population.

But simultaneously no European state is as divided as the United States. Visit to Chicago and California makes everyone race conscious, whether you want it or not. As novelist James Frey puts it in today's Financial Times:"I think Los Angeles is a city that embodies contemporary US society. It's segmented and divided, rich and poor. It's the American dream in its purest form, whether you're there searching for a roof over for your head or for international stardom." It's no place for cowards, America is still in many ways a cowboy's playground.

It is not a coincidence that in affluent areas of big American cities African Americans and Hispanics could be seen largely only behind the coffeeshop counter or cleaning the hotel rooms. United States is a diverse society which does not mean yet that it would be a mixed or equal society. Recent study showed that only 1/70 of children are born into black-white families. Mixed families or circles of friends tend to be still the rare incident proving the rule right.

But beyond all these things, like James, Frey, I have been seduced by the American Dream. People still believe in the power of the individual to make it. They believe in their possibilities to provide happiness and affluence to themself and their family. In that Californian living room I heard no comments about giving up. Everyone I talked with over the last three weeks said the same: it will spring back up, it just takes some time. It's this relentless optimism that leaves me energised. It is what James Frey captures in his fantastic book Bright Shiny Morning: no one claims America is living up to its promise for all but the dream keeps the springboard swinging, and millions of people reaching out for that happiness.

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