“What’s the capital of Alabama?" he asks. You giggle.
I don’t know.
"How about Utah?”
You look down at your feet and cue another laugh. This is humiliating.
I don’t know that one either.
He rolls his eyes and lets out a chuckle.
“What about South Carolina?"
You laugh again, shielding the familiar wave of insecurity that arises when answers to the seemingly obvious are elusive. You should know this, carajo.
"Are you kidding?" He blurts this time, indignant with your silence.
“How don’t you know any of these?”
You’re red. This idiot is ridiculing you and getting a kick out of it, glowing at the sight of your naiveté.
But you’re also embarrassed because you’re three states deep and don’t know any of the answers to questions that seem universally known by everyone around you. Am I supposed to know these? Third graders know this shit, don’t they?
You want to ask him what the capital of Peru is. How about Colombia? Maybe Bolivia (trick question). He might know a few, but you know for a fact that if you start asking for state-specific capitals in any of these countries, he’d be baffled. You wonder if he can even point out these places on a map.
Shut up, you say instead. I didn’t learn any of these in school.
You say this in the “accent" he claims you have, an accent that seems to ring in everyone’s ears every time you finish a sentence. You can’t seem to pick up on it, though.
You’ve been placed in a box. You think you’re the problem.
What if he’s the problem?
He thinks it is these fifty states with obscure capitals that dictate the state of our world.
But what he and many others don’t realize is that not everything revolves around the "land of the free".
If they take a few minutes to step outside this rigid notion that seems to be inflicted upon us, this notion that the U.S. is the center of the universe, they’d be slapped in the face by an odd realization.
A realization that the world does not, in fact, circulate around this nation of fifty states with obscure capitals that don’t make sense to the average foreigner (“What do you mean Buffalo is the capital of New York? It’s not New York City?”).
But you cut this kid some slack and put the hate to rest. Because you know that lack of awareness isn’t something inherently American. It happens back home, too.
You and your friends live curtained from what lies outside of Lima’s familiar periphery. You often keep these curtains drawn to avoid facing realities harsher than your own. You’ll peep through them from time to time to evoke sympathy and develop understanding. But the moment is fleeting and you soon draw them shut, sinking back into the comfort of your home. You succumb to the limited knowledge you possess of your own country. And you are struck by the aching awareness that there is still so much for you to learn, so much for you to understand.
But what you do know for certain is that your world revolves around places and people that extend beyond America’s reach. You’ve lived far enough from the “center” to know that there is no one true center. It’s relative. And you wish more people would challenge themselves to step outside this default center, to blur borders and learn more about what lies beyond this country with obscure capitals.
You may not have known Montgomery, Salt Lake City, and Columbia. But when you are drilled with geography questions whose answers you can’t conjure, when you misunderstand references to American history, and mistake grammatical tenses (even though you’ve spent your whole life thinking you’re fluent), you brush off the shame and laugh. You check yourself, look things up, and learn.
But you also check others and bestow upon them the responsibility of shifting their center, even if by only a few inches. You push them to see that the world is bigger than they think.