I saw it in Belize, and now I see it in Cape Verde. Kids, 4-year-olds, watching American shows and imitating what they see. Pick up a magazine; turn on your television; read the newspaper – think about the images and messages we are sending to people around the world. Even Cape Verde, a group of islands sitting alone in the Atlantic Ocean, is forever influenced by America. What we produce, what we value, what we discuss, how we live our lives is projected to people and places we will probably never visit. Before I received my Peace Corps invitation to serve in Cape Verde, I had never heard of this music-loving, catchupa-eating island nation. Yet, as soon as I arrived, I found out that Cape Verdeans know all about America.
Big containers of clothes arrive by boat carrying old t-shirts that Americans have discarded. I see grandmothers wearing t-shirts with images of Hannah Montana and High School Musical. I see teenagers wearing McDonald’s polos, with a golden arch on the left pocket. They are proud of their American clothes. They will immediately discard their beautiful African prints for an American t-shirt that half the population owns.
Students who don’t speak English will ask questions such as, What is swagger? or What is a thug? They hear words over and over again on television; they watch Youtube videos on the internet; they download songs and movies daily to share with their friends. They see and hear these celebrities, these writers, these musicians, and they automatically aspire to become these people.
Even the concept of Halloween – Cape Verdeans don’t celebrate it, but it’s slowly trickling into the city of Praia. Young people are throwing Halloween parties and dressing up as witches and ghosts. No trick-or-treating yet, but in a few years, anything is possible.
Robberies and gangs are on the rise in Cape Verde. And many people say it’s because young people are going to America and coming back corrupted, constantly desiring more and stealing to get it.
America has more power than I ever imagined. We have an influence that we don’t realize. Through the rapid use of internet around the world, we are sending messages and role models to faraway places. As I call on students in my classroom with names such as Elton John and Elvis, I wonder is this what we want for our world, an imitation, a distortion of America? I hate to think we play a role in crimes committed in Cape Verde; however, our prominence is undeniable. The bigger question remains — what’s next? What, if anything, are we willing to do about it?