As I watched 11-year-old Florecita attempt to adhere a diaper to her screaming, flailing 2-year-old daughter on the dirt-laden floor of a Peruvian shelter, a faint chorus of guilt-ridden apologies rang in my ears like church bells.
I could almost hear the redundant chants of those blinded by pseudo-nationalism, preaching to me from their supposed moral high ground: “You’re lucky to be an American. You could’ve been born in a ‘third world’ country but by luck or by fate you were born here. Stop complaining.”
And in this moment, I’m swallowed by a nearly indistinguishable combination of gratitude and shame — the American experience.
Two years prior, Florecita moved in with her stepfamily following the cancer-related deaths of her biological parents. It was at her new residence where she was impregnated by her stepfather at the age of 9 and kicked out of the house to fend for herself and her child.
Now living at a shelter for young female rape victims, Florecita is surrounded by other girls who share a similar fate — to raise the children of their rapists.
Despite Peru’s ongoing battle with sexual assault, specifically of minors, the country’s predominantly Roman Catholic population’s powerful influence on policymaking allows for abortion to remain a criminal offense.
Peruvian women who do not wish to be pregnant are faced with only two options: seek an illegal and potentially hazardous abortion with the risk of imprisonment, or follow through with the unwanted pregnancy.
I fear women in the United States may soon be forced to make a comparable decision if our politicians’ incapability to separate their religious views from their legislation continues.
So often we as Americans scoff at the countries we deem inferior, using terms such as “second world” and “third world” as derogatories. We look at our smartphones, and our big, shiny cities with pristinely paved highways and pretend like we too aren’t struggling with the most basic of human rights issues.
For a “first world” country allegedly far more socially, politically and economically advanced than Peru, the U.S. government’s blatant inability to act in a secular manner toward the issue of abortion is rather pathetic.
We’ve sat back and allowed ourselves to drink the American kool aid that is “separation of church and state;” Barely flinching as our president prioritizes Christian immigrants over Muslim refugees; Staring blankly as a room full of white men work to sign away women’s rights to their own bodies.
President Trump’s recent nomination of notoriously-conservative and highly-religious Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court inches the GOP closer to potentially overturning Roe v. Wade. If successful, the jurisdiction to determine the legality of abortion would no longer belong to the federal government. Therefore, state legislators would possess the power to entirely ban abortion within their state.
With the demise of Christianity’s placemat at the table of American policymaking seemingly out of question, I urge you, whether religious or not, to honestly and critically examine our country’s lack of secular decision-making. For a nation that prides itself on religious freedom, the looming influence of Christianity on American policymaking is undeniable.
Yes, by luck or by fate I was born in America. And although eternally grateful, I am critical. I am cynical. I am skeptical.
Because this is not who we are.
We mustn’t succumb to a form of nationalism that is not conducive to progress, but prohibits it. True patriotism is found in the recognition of our country’s faults and in the activism to overcome said faults. Ignoring our country’s issues and painting those who are hungry for change as “unpatriotic” is suppression camouflaged as American pride.
At the end of the day, we all share the common desire to foster the best possible version of the United States. To do so, it is imperative we swallow our pride and bring our faults to light, including our intolerable lack of separation between church and state.
I am proud to be an American because I am given the choice to be proud. Let us not squander what distinguishes our country from the rest — freedom of choice.
Eleanor is a junior print journalism and philosophy double major with a concentration in ethics and public policy. She often writes about issues of social justice and human rights, and her dream career would include traveling the world as a documentary filmmaker. You can usually find Eleanor binge watching an entire television series in one night or planning her next backpacking trip.
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