I had lived all my life an American away from America. Then I returned, a sort of immigrant among immigrants, except that I came to my native land. But it was as new to me as though I came from Sweden or from Italy or Greece. I knew almost as little what to expect before I landed.
But we all have pictures, we immigrants, of what the America is to which we come. They must be pleasant pictures, or we would not have come. People do not easily leave all they know unless they hope for something much better. Now I had my picture of America, too. It was made up of visual images of my mother’s much loved country home, of which she told me many stories, of a land of great plenty and ease, from which came money for the poor Chinese, because all Americans were rich and Christian.
It would not have occurred to me that there were illiterate Americans, or unwashed or poor Americans, or criminals. As I grew older and understood better inevitable human nature this picture was modified and reason did indeed compel me to understand that heaven existed nowhere.
But still something of this early picture persisted. Believed, for instance, that in leaving China I was leaving forever the sight of hungry people whom I was powerless to feed. I thought I was leaving behind the sight of wasting floods and dried and sun-baked, treeless lands, swept by dusty winds. I thought I was coming to a country which had organized itself into economic plenty and moral clarity. I had heard all my life that America was rich, and I did not think of these riches as being selfishly gained or used.
Money was poured generously out of America into China for famine relief, for Christian propaganda, for many and endless causes. Americans, then, though they were rich were generous, interested in a world culture, international-minded. I longed to meet my countrymen, whose idealism seemed almost fantastic to the materialistic philosophy of China.
On Discovering America
Pearl S. Buck
Nobel-prize winning author
born Hillsboro, WV
Related post: “We spoke just Italian at home”