Why Do Communities in America, Not Feel Like Communities?

Today in my Civic Engagement class, we were asked to voice what we each consider a “good” community. Responses varied, but most agreed with having an overall friendly demeanor, trusting approach, relationships with neighbors, participation in community social events, good education system, ‘clean’ and well kept landscaping and architecture, sport and recreational activities, supporting local businesses and someone said money is the actual ‘root’ of it all.

We then were asked to reflect why communities are not doing some of these factors we consider to contributing to a well established community, and that’s what I’d like to share while comparing my living experience here in the United States and Mexico; the differences I believe come heavily into play when taking into consideration what does make a good community?

My family immigrated to the United States from Juarez, Mexico to Austin, Texas when I was five years old, the culture shock was not as extreme for me as I could imagine it was for my parents. However, every summer and most winter breaks, we would visit our hometown and family; just a month back in Mexico every year was enough for me to learn and be able to distinguish how different not just two countries were, but two entire societies and the way their communities worked. I’d like to argue against some of the reasons my classmates believe contribute to creating and maintaining a good community, the aesthetic appeal of a town/city, a good education system and money.

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Ciudad Juárez, Mexico

I know I’m not the first to admit that my hometown would not rank in a “most beautiful cities of the world” category, nor for best education, or economic opportunities. However; I have experienced more sense of community in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico than I ever have in any other city or town I have visited or lived in in the United States. Yes, even during being ranked “the murder capital of the world” from the drug cartel wars, but especially after. In this city, everybody offers each other a smile, or strikes up a conversation, knows their neighbors and their families, feels welcome to join a soccer game in a park, volunteer and lend a hand whenever they can, buy their food, drinks, clothes, almost anything and everything from local markets and people spend more time outside playing in the streets or conversing with each other. The couple that owns a hair salon who cut my hair as a child right down my grandmother’s house still recognizes me when I visit, as does the candy shop owner in the other corner.

I think Ciudad Juárez was able to prevent remaining one of the most dangerous cities of the world because of this strong sense of a unified community, everyone who suffered together was able to do more than just sit around and wait for help, the empathy, love, encouragement, and bravery was felt by everyone to pull through during this cities darkest times. It makes me wonder, could a community in the United States do the same?

Of course they can, however, it might be a little bit more challenging. The United States was from the beginning founded with a focus to achieve one’s personal dreams, the American dream, after we were liberated from Britain. Since then I believe there’s been a development of a very “me” centered society. Folks today have a focus on their own families and aspirations far more than they do about others, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless you take a step back and ponder if that really builds a good community.

People in the United States are a lot less trusting of people in general, keep to themselves, volunteer less, statistically would not be able to name the names of every person on their street far less than in Mexico and other foreign countries, get home from a long day of work and would prefer to be alone to catch a breath, cluster more and build relationships with people who share the same appearances, beliefs and values, would rather not converse with strangers unless necessary, and now with the advent of the internet find less reasons for the need to socialize with people who live near. The introduction of media can also be said to cultivate certain ideas and perceptions about communities, people today are shown what is the social norm and continuously hear of gun violence, sexual predators, drugs, gangs, robberies, the war on terror, all which contributes to the less trusting attitude of society today.

However, I would like to encourage you, if you’re reading this, to take a step back and think about what a good community looks like to you. There is benefits of knowing your neighbors, smiling to strangers, having a conversation with the person behind you in a line, offering someone help, volunteering, supporting local businesses, taking kids to the park rather than playing games on the phone, reading outside every now and then aside from watching TV, and getting the chance to know someone completely different from you. I personally believe people are losing opportunities to find their soulmates, in friends and lovers, awakening passions, discovering themselves, falling short, missing the chances to make a difference in others peoples lives and losing the sense of a true community if we continue to be the reclusive society we are.

That realizing that everybody has a life, with stories, pain, heartache, joy, lives, is defined as sonder. There’s a reason humans feel it, because it’s natural to want to connect with one another, even in the smallest sense of acknowledging we’re both humans with a smile, it can definitely start there. Everyone in the world has a story, everyone in this world is a human, just like you! When I think about that, it makes me honestly makes want to embrace every passerby…but I’ll refrain until my next visit to Mexico, the States might not be ready quite yet!

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