Return to El Salvador: Exporting Americanism

“Welcome to San Salvador,” says my cousin as we reach the city limits.

“Now, roll up your windows.”

One reason I hesitated to return to El Salvador was the fact it’s not as safe as Costa Rica or Panama. It is still a post war society, and riding down the streets this is very clear. Most major establishments have armed guards outside; “vigilantes” as they are called by the locals. The fire arm of choice seems to be a shotgun the size of my arm. It makes me uneasy and very conscious about my personal belongings. The guns are meant to scare robbers, but I find they have the reverse effect. They intimidate the very people they are meant to protect.

My first outing in San Salvador was to a flea market to pick up some decorations for my younger cousin’s wedding. It’s an interesting place with lots of people and stuff to look at. I wanted to take a picture of everything, but I didn’t bring my camera. I didn’t know if I could walk around here with it, so I thought I better not take the chance. What a big contrast from my visit to London earlier this year. There, I walked all over the place taking pictures and never once had to think about personal safety.

We left the flea market and headed toward the mall. “Empire state of mind” by Jay-Z was playing on the radio. Less than two weeks ago I was in NYC, one of the biggest global hubs, walking through Times Square listening to this very song. Now I’m driving down the streets of a Latin America, in a country that the world has pretty much forgotten about.

Listening to this song reminds me of my first visit here, 12 years ago. My adoptive parents and I went to a remote village in El Salvador because they were sponsoring a child there. As we walked down the dirt roads I heard “California love” by Tupac Shakur playing in the distance; a song I listened to a lot back then. I remember it amazed me how this tiny little village in El Salvador had the same music as I did. It was the first time I experienced the reach of American culture.

12 years later, I’m walking around the mall I again and I notice America’s reach. Many of the people here are very fashionably dressed. This is not the first time I have seen a culture of fashion in Latin America. San Jose, Costa Rica is also a fashionable city. However, this is different. The fashion in Costa Rica is Latin, whereas the fashion here is “western.” There are hairstyles and clothing that I’ve only seen in the US. When I point this out to my cousin she commented that it could be because of all the Salvadorans in there. It seems they are not only sending money to their families back home but also culture.

It’s fascinating to think that our biggest export in America might not be goods or services, but culture. Our music, fashion and way of thinking reaches all corners of the globe, infecting the people who live there. People in countries where the “American Dream” is a lot harder to come by. People who have to constantly worry about the well being of themselves and their family.

How ironic, we spread Americanism to all corners of the world and then turn away the very people who buy into it.

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