The Other Side
Elliott enters the supermarket with a sigh. The doors slide open automatically and the chilled air from inside hits him in the face. The bright lights and the huge interior, the loud music coming at him from the loudspeakers that are everywhere in the USin the restaurants, at the gas pump, at the diners, in the grocery storesand the rows and rows of items for sale. It is as though he were in some giants store, where everything possibly imagined could be had. Elliott is almost stunned, unsure of where to go, as is always the case whenever he enters a store like this. It is an overwhelming experience for the young man from Peru. He tries to get through the store and on his way as quickly as he can, but he cant help but notice how the stores are always set up to distract you from your purpose: over here is the womens section, with models peering at one from large walls, tempting one to look over. Over there are rows and stalls of candies and chocolates; further down the aisle are toys and TVs, games, and DVDs; around the bend are sodas, and beers, drinks, and food. He has to try to remember why he came, why he entered this Target in the first place. It is so different from a grocery store back in Peru. He stops in an aisle and looks over at the cartons of milk for sale. He thinks back to how in Peru, milk comes fresh from a goat or from a cow, and can be bought in tiny little bagsnot in big cartons like here in America. He sighs once more. Several people pass by, talking loudly and cursing as though unaware or uncaring that there are young children nearby. Come to think of it, in America, everyone seems to curse loudly, Elliott reflects. What is going on in this country, he wonders for the thousandth time.
What Elliott sees in America is different from what he thinks of as home in Peru. In Peru, life is simpler, more honestto him at leastfresher and more authentic. In America, life feels boxed up, artificial, and often immoral. There do not seem to be any rules on how to act in Americaonly just be yourself, and that can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For Elliott, being oneself opens the door to being anythinga thief, an unfaithful spouse, a drunkard; but of course one is not obliged to be moral just because one is free to choose immoralitybut the point that Elliott makes is that it is easier to be tempted to immorality when anything goes. And what he finds in America is that just about anything does go. As a result, Elliott misses the simple things, like the simplicity of life back in Peruthe way milk comes in a bag at the grocery store; the way the grocery stores are smaller; the way life proceeds more slowly (it has to when most of the time a person gets from point A to point B by walking). Elliott pauses and looks around and states, America is like a harsh simulation, for it does not quite feel real (Elliott Interview). Peru is more natural, more native, more moral (Elliott Interview). Peru is centered; it has some faith, some higher sense of purpose in life that rises above the material. It is this latter point that really makes the difference for Elliott.
Peru is part of Latin America, a country that has seen cultures blended together for hundreds of years. It was colonized by the Spanish and Portuguese, who brought their Catholic faith to the country, catechized the natives and converted many (Rice). Like in most Catholic countries, wine is special to the culture. It is also special to the economy of Peru, which is a rather simple country due its location so far from the industrial giant of the West that is the US. The US has its wines as wellits California wines are good, and Elliott has tried them. The US also has its Catholic saintsbut it is somehow different, Elliott thinks, as his eyes roam over the bottles of wine for sale. Everything in the US seems a bit different, a bit commercialized, a bitcheapin a way. The saints of Latin Americathey seem more real to Elliott, more identifiable, more close at hand. In the US, he has to look for them, look hardjust like he has to look hard for what he is trying to find in this gigantic superstore of goods. Little is apparent just like that. He has to search, try to find, try not to be distracted. In Peru, the saints are part of the culturethey are everywherelike the way it is in Italy, where one finds pictures of the saints almost everyone one goes (Norget). In the US, one sees pictures of beautiful peoplemodelsbut what do they represent other than some material perfection? What do this models have to say of the soul? They are put on display for shallow, superficial purposes. It makes Elliott wonder at the spiritual state of the average American. He watches a few more walk byso many of them are obesestuffed full of things they can buy so easily at the superstore of groceries. They keep coming and coming for more and more, filling themselves up and never stopping, he thinks to himself sadly.
He leaves the aisle and thinks back to his family in Peru, how he lost an uncle in an avalanche once. In Peru, people work because they have to, and life happens in unexpected ways, and people keep going because they put their faith in Godnot in local government or in scientists (Carey). As Carey states, Peruvians have a lack of localfaithin government officials and scientists, a result perhaps of the States failure to address issues like flooding and avalanches (123). However, Elliott believes it is not a result of the failure of the State but rather an understanding that God wills all things and that people in Peru understand that.
In America, people pay lip service to God and there are many churches, but why does immorality seem so rampant? On the one hand, he can go down the street and pass church after church; on the other hand, he can go down another street and wonder if he will be mugged or jumped, or wonder how many immodestly dressed people he will pass, or how many people cursing he will hear, or how many quarrels he might witness. He might see in the windows of homes how everyone is seated in front of a TV, watching some show full of violence or other situations that are unsuitable for children as well as adults.
Elliott finds what he is looking for in the store: a soccer ball. He wants to show some children he met how to play with it. Soccerthey call it football back in Peruis a favorite game of many people in Latin America. It is a simple game and one that Elliott loves with all his heart. He thanks God for having found it in the storethe last one. He goes to the check-out lane and waits his turn. The junk food lining the stall at the check-out lane is in unending supply, he observes. In Peru, there is a limited supply of just about everythingnot like here in America where one seems to be able to have whatever one wantsand it seems what Americans want more than anything else is junk food, judging by the stores and aisles. Elliott thinks fondly on the Peruvian diet, the healthy foods he and his family and friends eatit is simple fare, natural, tasty, and good for you. He looks over at a family of three: a man, a woman, and a childall very heavy-set and their eyes glazed over as though the life in them had been muted by too much materialism and American living. He sighs again. He pays for the soccer ball and heads for the exit. Finally, he is free, and steps out of the store and into the freshif muggyair outside. He surveys a large parking lot before him, full of expensive carseveryone is always driving somewhere in Americaand he turns and begins walking down the sidewalk to the street: he only has six miles to goa short walk.
Carey, Mark. “Living and dying with glaciers: people’s historical vulnerability to
avalanches and outburst floods in Peru.”Global and planetary change47.2-4 (2005): 122-134.
Elliott Interview. May 1, 2022.
Norget, Kristin. “Mediat (iz) ing Catholicism: saint, spectacle, and theopolitics in Lima,
Peru.”Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute7.4 (2021): 757-779.
Rice, Prudence M. “Wine and” Local Catholicism” in Colonial Moquegua,
Peru.”Colonial Latin American Historical Review4.4 (1995): 369.
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