Going back... to where he came from

Just about a year ago, after a self-imposed exile of almost twenty years working in several Latin America countries, a friend of mine decided “to hang up his slide rule” in exchange for a job in Academe. He was giving up three-quarters of his compensation running major civil engineering projects in order to fulfill the dream of teaching at a small Southern university.

Dave is only two weeks away from completing his first academic, and tenured, year… but he is not quite sure whether he is fulfilling a dream or living through a nightmarish disappointment. Perhaps “nightmarish disappointment” is not an appropriate term, but disappointment, plain and simple, certainly is. And unless there is a major turnaround in Dave’s thinking, it does appear as if he will become an expatriate once again.

He and his wife have always been “premature empty-nesters,” as he jokingly describes his childless marriage of two decades. Their children of choice were always temporarily-adopted “indigenous kids” from Peru , or Bolivia , or Ecuador … young people in need of affection and a few material things. Those were the short term nestlings in Dave’s and Peg’s abode, perhaps as many as two dozen of them during their time away from the States.

I have known Dave for over three years… a member of an Internet socio-cultural discussion group, he has always been a strong advocate for Latin American interests in whatever form. I can think of no better ambassador to represent Latin American interests in the US, or US interests in Latin America , than Dave. But only in reference to interests that flow people to people… not between governments, or in business dealings. A sharp critic of US foreign policy in Latin America , he is also intimate to the wheeling and dealing that takes place in Western Hemisphere politics.

There have been many sessions when Dave and I have found a perfect fit to those experiences acquired in Latin America . Experiences that tie mutual observations of how US government policies have diminished democracy in those third world nations, and how American business interests help perpetuate economic rapaciousness. We both found vindication to a common judgment stemming from similar experiences… and a common moral standard.

So, what about that disappointment that will throw Dave back into exile? Perhaps this one e-mail I have just received from him can summarize his predicament.

“Ben— we may not make it this summer to the Northwest; in fact we have just put our house up for sale. I have just finished evaluating 17 senior projects and next week will be holding finals. A good thing that I only teach two courses, and have a TA to help!

“Peggy has purchased plane tickets for us to make the Andean circuit in early July… and if nothing materializes, I will accept a teaching assignment in Patagonia since I have been promised access to consulting for a number of public projects. In any case, I am history here. I told you last month about Peggy’s confrontation with some of our neighbors who more or less made it clear how undesirable ‘progressive’ people can be in these trying times for ‘their nation’ (we must seem as foreigners to them).

“Well, now it was my turn. A paper which I was submitting for [scholarly] publication and which was very critical of USAID, something which you know something about, was not given my dean’s imprimatur… repercussions with government funding, he claims.

“It’s ironic that my grandfather, a proud Pole and a worshiper of everything-US, was told countless times by know-nothings of his time to go back where he came from. Now his grandson in a round-and-about way is being told the same thing. The unfortunate thing is that the number of pseudo-patriots seems to be increasing everyday.

“It’s time to shed a few tears for our Constitution, Ben. Dave.”

A few tears we shall shed… and a thought: Dave may have a place to go back to but most of us don’t.