My take on the “Single Story”

There is something so obvious, so rudimentary, but resonating louder and louder each day….

Our understanding of the outside world is limited to only our experiences.

This created many single stories for me as a victim and as a perpetrator. I’ll only discuss my view as a perpetrator in this post. There is something to be appreciated, and liberating, about being able to open up about how near-sighted I’ve been in the past and how I’ve grown to appreciate the many stories.

Growing up in South Florida, I was indoctrinated with a specific vision of the “American Dream.” It was the big SUV, the pool, the large house on a big plot of land, and the acquisition of “toys” (boats, jet skis, etc etc). The city was filled with people chasing this dream and it was implicit in the design of the city. Sprawling evermore west, cookie cutter suburbs arose overnight for much of the 2000’s and create a whole region based on the vehicle. I had no appreciation for public transit or anything of the like. In fact, to this day, the stigma still exists that public transportation is for the homeless and undesirable people (criminals, poor people, blacks).

South Florida Sprawl (mywestonblog.com)

South Florida Sprawl (mywestonblog.com)

So what does this all mean?

All throughout undergrad (in Urban Planning), and for a very short time in Grad School, I was under the assumption that I had to plan in the same way Florida was planned. I assumed that every single person had the same “American Dream,” and you know what’s even worse?!  Having been born to Nicaraguan parents, and having visited many times throughout my life, I was motivated, and continue to be motivated to “plan” for developing nations. Here’s the issue though…. I was convinced that people needed saving and that I would go back to the land of my parents and save my people. As such, I was convinced that the I could apply “Florida style planning”, if I can call it that, and apply it elsewhere. Like some sort of universal formula for happiness and prosperity. Stemming from my last post, we cannot assume that one metric of quality of life can be implemented universally.

You can already see the issue with my skewed way of thinking. It didn’t take long, and it didn’t take very many class sessions with my cohort, to figure out that I was completely wrong about planning, the developing world, and my notion of a universal “American Dream.” This post is definitely a more personal one, one of liberation in some respects. I can honestly say that I have a greater appreciation and understanding for the many stories of life, of people, and places. These “awakenings” came about from traveling and most recently my move to Champaign, Illinois. Not only am I surrounded by people from all over the world, but I live in a city where biking amongst students is incredibly more popular than it was in south florida. Heck, I can’t even remember the last time I rode a bike before moving here. that’s just one small example on an alternative transportation method.  It has been in incredible experience, as a whole, to hear the different stories from people. Stories from India, East Timor, Pakistan, Argentina, Paraguay, Haiti, China, Korea, Australia, Sweden, and a variety of American cities. We all have seen different models of development, and in my case, I was confined to this south florida region and way of thinking.

Again, I know this post is more of a personal one, but it was necessary to tell people that I’ve matured. That my perception of the world is expanding.  That my appreciation of different lifestyles exists now, whereas it didn’t before! There is a reason why Chimamanda’s TED Talk is titled, “The danger of the single story.”

 

What is your single story?

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