Conservatives tend to be attached to the idea of “America First.” While I agree with that sentiment, and we should definitely take care of our country before we attempt to help others—the same way we’re told to put on our own oxygen mask before helping others on a plane— that doesn’t mean we should write off other countries and cultures.
My first ever job, which I got this past February, taught me more about why America First doesn’t mean America Only, and this worldview expands beyond foreign policy.
I’m a waitress at a small Mongolian restaurant in Georgia, which is run by a manager from China, another family from China, and one of the cooks is a Mexican immigrant. Immediately after I started working, my boss was applying for his U.S. citizenship and would have me quiz him on all the test questions. I would tell him things about America and American culture, and he would tell me things about China. We both had misconceptions and some of the conversations led to funny moments like: “What do you mean you don’t know who Taylor Swift is?”
Learning more about China was eye opening however, it wasn’t until I started getting to know the Mexican cook that I truly began to understand how important it is to reach out to different cultures and people who aren’t your average cookie-cutter American.
Santiago, the cook, speaks Spanish primarily and very, very little English. I’m the complete opposite. Aside from Spanish in high school and a few trips to South Texas, I really haven’t been in a position where I needed to know Spanish and I didn’t try very hard to learn it. That was a mistake.
Every day I came into work, Santiago asked “¿Como Estas?” and no matter how I was actually doing, I would tell him “bien” because that was the only response I knew. It bothered me that I couldn’t be my usual talkative self and would rely on smiles and pointing to things I needed to work with him.
So slowly, day by day, I started learning different ways to respond to the basic “How are you?” in Spanish, and he began learning in English. Each day we got into a little deeper of a conversation. The usual asking how each other was doing turned into me asking for “frito” and letting him know I’d be working again on “Domingo”. The conversations may have been incredibly broken up, but he would laugh and tell me “poquito muy bien!” He would repeat my responses back to me in English and we would both laugh when we got it right. It became the highlight of my day, every day. I realized there was so much more beyond not only english, but America.
I could have just never attempted to speak with Santiago, handed him the orders, and let him prepare the food, but life shouldn’t be like that.
As conservatives especially, the Left tries to portray us as people who don’t care about anyone except other homegrown Americans and people who reject immigration. More often than not, we form friendships and experience life the easy way—we don’t attempt to truly understand people different from us. Yet in America, we’re a mixing pot of millions of people with different home countries, languages, and cultures. I was the same way.
I can still believe we should take care of America before others, and embrace the idea that we are a melting pot. This isn’t an either or for conservatives, no matter what the Left tries to tell us or what we may even believe ourselves. You can care about other countries and cultures, want to learn more about them, and yet be tough when the time comes.
I’m still not fluent in Spanish, and as much as I want to be, I may not ever get there. However, Santiago helped me open my eyes to the importance of legal immigration and expanded my appreciation for those who come to America for a better life. We can be pro-America, anti-illegal immigration, and still care about our neighbors whose homes are across the ocean. There are so many unique differences in everyone that makes their way here. I’m glad I learned that young enough to spend the rest of my life appreciating them to the fullest extent.
Don’t wait to learn about your neighbor, coworker, or friend. America is the greatest and most free country in the world, but there are so many interesting things to learn about other places. Trying to come off as a super tough “only America” conservative is a shame. Put America First, but don’t ignore the rest of the world.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.