Letter to Home: The American Subculture

Taking a course on "La Cultura Española" invokes thoughts on the interaction of dominant cultures and subcultures, the erasure of cultures by invalidating the experiences of the voiceless, and the individual’s ability to navigate the world under influence by certain culture(s). My world compass is shaped by a multicultural upbringing, but American culture has been the dominant influence in my life.  I know what a “founding father” is, I understand pop cultural references to “Mean Girls,” and I have picked up phrases like “It’s lit” but know I would never use “Mad cool” to express the same excitement.

Yet, after picking up these cultural subtleties as an American, I can’t help but wonder if my compass was calibrated with a different measurement. Outside of America, the definition of a “typical American” abroad becomes quite clear, and a recent experience of mine made it crystal clear to me.

I am sitting in a café waiting for a friend to come. Three college-aged girls come up to a table beside me and ask if they could use the empty chair across from me. I say, “Sorry, but my friend is coming soon.” They give me an irritated look and decide that two of them can sit on the bench next to me and one girl can sit on the chair that is designated for their table. I then offer to let them use my friend’s chair until she gets here. They glance at me and one responds with a snarky, “It’s fine” under her breath as if I were obligated to give them the chair in the first place. Strike 1. They start complaining about how “unnecessary” it is for their transgender friend to ask them to call “her” the pronoun “they.” Strike 2. They proceed to discuss traveling to the Canary Islands in which one girl expressed she would rather go to Tenerife because it was only 100 Euro, yet Tenerife is in the Canary Islands. If you’re spending 100 Euro on a flight, I’d assume you’d do some research. As my friend and I started to gather our things to leave, they pulled our table next to theirs giving them a 4 person table for 3 people, thus, ignoring the couple hovering for our seats and the line of people waiting in the rain to be seated. Strike 3.

They just got called out for entitlement.

As I leave, I scoff because I never had to leave campus to meet the “typical American” who goes abroad. Maybe I grew up in a subculture where money didn’t flow from mommy and daddy’s pockets, but capitalism taught us that we wanted the best and shiniest things, and we could buy the American Dream through debt. Maybe I grew up in a subculture where people survived in a communal unit, but individualism taught us we needed our own money and resumé building experiences to get out of the hell hole where nobody went anywhere fast and died in the same house they grew up in. Maybe moving to a foreign country, it becomes clear that in my little pocket of America, kids who grow up in my subculture shouldn’t dream of studying abroad.

We dare to dream of the weightlessness of living somewhere other than here, but are carried back down to reality when we think about its feasibility. How are we going anywhere if we can’t afford the flight? Even if we had money, could we spend it on ourselves when our parents need help managing our siblings at home? We are not entitled to our dream to study abroad, so when the opportunity strikes, we do what we have always done: we hustle. Endless hours of scholarship searching, essay writing, and email correspondence on top of managing school work and dealing with CMC administration’s negligence for marginalized students. Until the stipends and scholarships came in and I was carried by a wave of emotions. Joy—I did it. Doubt—can I make it? Apprehension—do I deserve it? Sadness—I am leaving my friends and family. Hope—I will bring back inspiration.

The dominant culture says study abroad wasn’t made for me, just as much as it says I shouldn’t be at CMC, and if I’m unhappy, I should either shut up or get out. The subculture tells me two stories: 1) I should listen to the dominant culture, and 2) the grind will prove never ending, but if you make it, shout. Estoy gritando. This is for the kids who were never entitled to a dream. This is for every “atypical American” abroad who shares their narrative. This is for every person who dared to define themselves against the status quo of a dominant culture. This is for the rise of a subculture that refuses to be silenced.