In my life, I have taken many journeys without which I would not have experienced important truths. My father started us off early, taking us on many journeys to help us understand that true knowledge comes only from experience. We took trips every winter break to Belize, Turks and Caicos, Costa Rica, and to Italy and Guatemala, my church’s mission trip for that year. Silly things I remember from those trips include the mango chili sauce on the pork in Maui, the names of the men who gave out the conchs by the ocean on the beach of New Canaan, Frans, eating dinner at 10 p.m. in Spain. These were all tourist experiences that I, at first, found spellbinding. My truths were the truths of the tourist brochures: beautiful hotels, beaches, and cities. I did not see the blindfolds. I did not appreciate how being held hostage by the beauty of the surface—the beaches and cities—blinded me to the absence of foreign natives on the streets; I did not understand how the prevalence and familiarity of English conspired to veil the beauty of the Spanish language beneath volumes of English translations.
I learned more about these truths in my freshman year of high school, when I was among a group of students selected to visit New York. My grandmother used to work there, yet I had never thought to research my own family’s businesses. I have remained the naive American who saw false advertising as some distant enemy of excitement, accepting this as fact because this seemed to be the accepted wisdom. I soon became intrigued, however, with this supposed plague to my freedom, my culture, and everything good and decent. I began to think, just what is communism anyway? What’s so bad about hostage and heritage? I believed that what was missing was a lack of understanding between the two cultures, and that acceptance of our differences would come only with knowledge.
My first impression of traveling was the absence of commercialism. I saw no giant golden arch enticing hungry people with beef-laced fries; I did see billboards and signposts exhorting unity and love. I realized, however, that much of the uniqueness that I relished while traveling might be gone if the If my father was never influenced, himself. The parallels and the irony were not lost on me. I was stepping out of an American political cave that shrouded the beauty of another world and stepping into another, one built on patriotic socialism, one where truths were just as ideological as, yet very different from, mine.
History, I recognized, is never objective. The journeys I have taken have been colored by my prior experiences and by what my feelings were in those moments. Everyone holds a piece of the truth. Maybe facts don’t matter. Perhaps my experience is my truth and the more truths I hear from everyone else, the closer I will get to harmonization. Maybe there is no harmony, and I must go through life challenging and being challenged, perhaps finding perspectives from which I can extract—but never call—truth. I must simply find ways to understand others, to seek in them what is common to us all and perhaps someday find unity in our common human bond. This is what life has taught me so far, my sum of truths gleaned from experiencing many cultures. I don’t know if these truths will hold, but I hope that my college experience will be like my trip to Cuba—challenging some truths, strengthening others, and helping me experience new ones.
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