“India” I replied, and added for a good measure, “but I live in America now.”
The guy laughed and said that Ecuadorians are Americans too, and rather sarcastically suggested that I was referring to Estados Unidos.
Our conversation continued even as we started walking after the light turned green. He identified himself as Mario and that his mother was from Ecuador while his father was Brazilian. I ditched any tour-book’s advice to be cautious with strangers and instead took up on his offer to walk to interesting sights away from the main touristy areas.
As we walked, Mario turned out to be the stereotypical college-educated left-sympathizing middle-aged person who was very well-informed about the world.
Mario’s commentaries became even more animated when I asked him about Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in comparison with the Brazilian version of left-leaning politics. Mario promptly dismissed my question and the underlying interpretation of Chavez’s politics: “you are repeating the US media and commentators who have never even set foot in Venezuela.”
Mario recognized the economic, military, and cultural hegemony that the US has in the contemporary world, but made no attempt whatsoever to hide his very dramatic love-hate feeling towards the US.
The following day, I went with a tour group to Cotopaxi, which is one of the highest volcanoes in the world. The drive took us from Quito’s elevation of 2,850 meters (about 9,300 feet) to the base at about 4,500 meters (nearly 15,000 feet) while the summit itself peaks at about 5,900 meters.
“It is not a country, but an empire” emphasized Caesar. “I am all pro-USA, but even until today cannot support what the US did in Bosnia” he added. Through their polite quietness, the other two made it clear that they didn’t want to get into a controversial topic.
But Caesar was more interested to offer at considerable length his critique of the economic recovery efforts led by the US government and the Fed, even at the risk of completely losing the companions from Germany and Poland.
“The US is inflating the rest of the world’s economies because it is printing money without control. It is all because Nixon abandoned the gold standard” was Caesar’s thesis that he elaborated at lunch when we stopped at a restaurant located in an old hacienda.
Of course, conversation was easy because the three were fluent in English, and more. The German and the Romanian were fluent in Spanish as well. Caesar said he was at home in Dutch and French, and was now beginning his lessons in Chinese. I perhaps represented the stereotypical character from the US who is barely conversant even in the English language!
In a strange way, through their harsh criticisms, Mario and Caesar presented me with a comforting thought—these people talk about the US so much because the country continues to play an influential role in the world. Even though they were fully aware of my roots in India, they could not be bothered to say anything other than their fondness for Indian food and yoga. Caesar did comment at one point that he hoped to travel to China and India sometime soon because they could be superpowers in a few decades. But, otherwise, with an occasional nod to the German economy, it was the US that captured their focus.
Despite the struggle to get out of the Great Recession, the continuing high unemployment, and other economic issues, the US continues to command worldwide attention. Perhaps we need to really worry about our global standing the day when the Marios and Caesars stop caring about whatever the US does. I hope that day never comes.