Over the past few years, a growing number of American citizens have begun to consider the previously unthinkable—perhaps it’s time to leave America. Before images of tie-dyed wearing flower children of the 60s or the “if Obama doesn’t win I’m out of here” crowd come to mind, that isn’t who I’m referring to at all. With a spiraling debt, rampant crime, rules and regulations aimed at undermining small business, and enough apathetic public officials to fill both sides of the aisle, those casting a wandering eye toward foreign shores are the same people who probably have fading “America, Love it or Leave It” bumper stickers on the back of their car or truck. These people make a surprisingly strong case for cashing it all in and heading off to Costa Rica, Belize, or some other tax-friendly Shangri La offering better health care and a more stress-free lifestyle. But is that really a solution?
Perhaps we would do well to consider the parable of around 20,000 southerners who thought the same thing shortly after Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox. With their land devastated, Reconstruction already taking hold, and prospects of raising their families under an oppressor’s hand, a number of disaffected Americans, (mostly from Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia), packed up and left for something they believed to be better. Lured by promises of land and freedom, these tattered souls decided Brazil was the place to be. Some prospered, others scratched by, and a few entered the mainstream of Brazilian life. But fully 60 percent either died in the jungles or returned to a land they couldn’t leave. Though defeated and denied citizenship for nearly 13 years after the war, America was still their home.
Those who stayed in Brazil found getting America out of their hearts and minds more difficult than they ever imagined. To this day, the Confederados of Brazil still celebrate July 4th and think of themselves as children of Washington and Jefferson. Their main gathering point in South America’s largest country was named Americana by locals, and a city by that name remains to this day. It is estimated as many as 200,000 in Brazil can trace their genealogies to those original 8,000 Americans who never returned to the home of their birth.
So is this a tale of caution or optimism? I guess that depends on one’s point of view. Surely, those who are already considering moving away from this great country have every right and perhaps, based on their family situation, obligation to pursue their mind and heart. More than a few of us have asked, “Where is the country whose flag I pledged allegiance to as a child? Where is the land for which our fathers died?” I can’t blame anyone for doing what seems best for their family’s safety, comfort, and future.
With that said, I also can’t in good conscience consider leaving this country and land that I love and still believe in. This is a big country, much bigger than most of us realize. While the media feeds us a steady diet of urban decay, Hollywood glitz, and Washington apathy, that isn’t nearly the whole story. Vast segments of this nation haven’t given up quite yet! People still worship with more freedom than in the majority of countries on this planet. And in how many places on this green and blue ball can one have two cars, air-conditioning, a cell phone, and cable television—and still be considered as living in poverty?
In the end, none of these pros and cons is the real issue to me. My forefathers were Scott-Irish settlers and Cherokee Indians, both proud people of the land. My great-grandmother was five- feet tall and once stood off three grave robbers on her property with an axe in one hand and a shotgun in the other. No one was going to drive her off her land through intimidation, fear, or a heavy hand. They might remove her, but it would only be by force and not until she had let everyone darn well know she hadn’t gone without a scrap. For her, it wasn’t so much the piece of land the woman stood on, but the woman who stood on the land.
I’m still of the opinion we are losing this country more by default than constraint. Because we’ve grown soft and satisfied, most of us would rather complain than do anything about it. We refuse to admit our leaders are merely grotesque caricatures of what we as a nation have become. And what makes us think we wouldn’t carry those same weaknesses with us wherever we might go? A young college student I know recently wrote she couldn’t wait to move away from America to somewhere not so engrossed with itself, a place where corruption and materialism do not rule. Funny thing is, in the same letter she also gushed about an upcoming trip to Disney World and how much she looked forward to it.
For all those considering heading off to your promised land, I wish you the best. Perhaps, like the Confederados of Brazil, you too will make a mark on whatever land that becomes your home. But for now, at the risk of sounding ultimately naïve, this land is my land. Problems? You bet! More trouble on the horizon? Without a doubt. Hopefully though, I have enough of Granny Tucker’s Scott-Irish/ Cherokee blood in me to make me just stubborn enough to continue saluting the flag for what our forefathers intended it to represent.
And, to realize it’s not about the land the man stands on, but the man that stands on the land.