When I meet people in Paraguay, I expect to tell them that my state is close to New York and Canada because they’ve never heard of it. I’m excited to be the first one to talk to them about Vermont. Coming from a rural area of the United States, I think it’s fun to dispel the image movies and TV shows create of my country. Eagerness to teach aside, there are two myths many people in Paraguay have about the US that frustrate me.
Myth 1: Everyone in the US is blond and blue-eyed.
I think one of the challenges related to this is that Paraguayans don’t always realize how big the US is. They’ve heard of New York and some of our other major cities. But, it’s hard to describe to them that the US is about 24 times the size of Paraguay (Paraguay is about the size of California). We have cities that have more inhabitants than the entire population of Paraguay
Myth 2: Everyone in the US is rich. There are no poor people in the US.
I had an interesting conversation with one woman who thought people didn’t have to work in the United States. I think she thought we get money from the government. If I wasn’t so interested in capitalizing on the teachable moment I might have laughed. When I left the US, people were still up in arms because some saw the new health care law as a government overstep. In Paraguay, where government handouts were part of the system for the 30-odd years leading up to Paraguayan democracy, it’s hard to convey the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality that is the American dream. Many volunteers struggle against the perception that they are here to deliver money. Even among development organizations the idea of development as a partnership of work is not as common as it should be.
It’s not for nothing that 2 of the 3 Peace Corps goals focus on cultural exchange.