Above Ground

Living as a visible minority in another country has taught me a lot about race, colonization, and globalization.

Something else it’s shown me is the delicate underground web we may take for granted in the suburbs.

Everything here is closer to the visible surface— income inequality, pollution, garbage, consumerism, animal cruelty, effects of war.

Sometimes I pass someone old enough to be my grandmother carting a rickshaw full of cardboard. Social security was only recently established and elder poverty is a huge problem. I see grannies selling gum for a dollar outside department stores selling $500 padded jackets.

Sometimes I see elderly without limbs, or I see a set of retirees talking to each other in sign language.

My friend lives with her divorced sister and two young children in a one bedroom townhouse in the countryside.

I see people walking their ridiculous, tiny, mean, purebred dogs and then I see happy mutts tied up to a six foot chain all day. I see puppies in the countryside I can’t save. I see cats without tails and birds without feet.

I know exactly how much garbage my neighbors and I produce, and I often fight for walking room in the alley with overstuffed garbage trucks.

I see water bottles and juice boxes and beer cans floating in the surf during the summer. I see abandoned takeout coffee cups on street corners.

American suburbs have these same problems— but we never have to confront our consumption or excess because we have the space to pollute and the land to fill with our out-of-sight, out-of-mind, no-questions-asked garbage bags.

Sometimes people come to Asia and complain that it’s dirty. Is it really dirty or is it simply lacking the land mass to hide trash? Not to mention, America has been shipping its garbage to Asia for years.

The world complains that China is a huge polluter— and it is, and needs to face that reality. Yet the rest of the world also exports its manufacturing to the cheapest location possible then in the same breath berates the location for causing pollution.

I worked for a medical company that moved its manufacturing of catheters from the Midwest to Mexico and China, then complained about a decrease in quality and opaque manufacturing agreements.

Color me surprised. I don’t know which Aesop’s fable is best suited for this—the eagle and the arrow? But that suggests some modicum of self reflection.

Despite its own complaints, the company did not move manufacturing back to the US. It was explicit about maintaining the maximum profit, which has seemed to be the driver for every medical company I and friends have worked for, even at the detriment to the consumer– the patient.

It’s not comfortable to look directly into the eyes of a system in which I participate and also helped create. I have to confront the consequences and at the same time parse out the helplessness of feeling so insignificant in a system so vast.

No place is inherently better or worse than another. Every place, however, has varying degrees of smoke and mirrors to cover the less savory effects and history of being human and it’s not always comfortable to see the mirror in the landfill reflecting me.

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