There's a lot more than geographic proximity linking the people of the Western Hemisphere. Although we live in a region of rich cultural diversity, being a citizen of the Americas connects us all.
Step 1: We learn from each other We learn from each other. Study-abroad programs facilitate cross-cultural understanding and promote educational opportunities in both the host and home countries. In 2008, the U.S. granted more than 40,000 visas to students from other nations in the Western Hemisphere. And nearly 38,000 students from the U.S. studied throughout Latin and North America in the 2006-2007 school year. All of them now better understand their host country, have a new perspective on their own nation, and are more equipped for future business, government, and social dealings with the rest of the world.
TIP: While Spanish, Portuguese, English, and French are the most common spoken languages, millions of people speak indigenous languages like Quechua and K'iche'.
Step 2: We travel We travel to each other's countries. Tourism throughout the Americas doesn't just foster cultural awareness; it also spurs economic growth. In 2009, tourism in the Americas is expected to generate an estimated $1.8 trillion and employ nearly 36 million people.
Step 3: We work abroad and send money home We work in each other's countries. With close to 40 percent of all people in the Americas living near or below the poverty level, the freedom to seek legal, productive work across national borders is crucial for the survival and betterment of millions. It's also a major factor in national economies: seven countries in the region receive 12 percent or more of their gross national product from the money that these workers send back home. In 2008, Latin American and Caribbean workers living abroad, many in the United States, sent home about $69 billion in remittance money.
Step 4: Trade links us We trade with each other. Policies and treaties that govern trade in the Americas, like NAFTA and CAFTA, aim to allow greater exchange of goods and services and spur economic growth by creating more job opportunities. U.S. trade with Latin America hit an all-time high of $633 billion in 2008, while exports to Latin America grew 18.5 percent, and imports from the area increased 9 percent. In this global economy, no country's economy can flourish alone.
TIP: Economists today believe that protectionism, the policy of restricting trade with the goal of "protecting" one's own economy, worsened the U.S.'s Great Depression.
Step 5: Cultural diversity enriches everyone We are enriched by our varied cultures. There are over 150 UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Western Hemisphere, and U.S. museums alone record 600 million annual visits. From ancient Mayan murals, to traditional Surinamese music and Andean ceremonial architecture, the various ways in which people have expressed themselves -- and continue to do so -- can inform and influence generations to come.
Step 6: We share the environment We share natural resources. We are connected by the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the land we cultivate. Policies that set environmental standards, partnerships that conserve energy resources, and efforts to exchange technology, research, and best practices help to ensure a cleaner and more sustainable tomorrow. Already the U.S. and Brazil, who together produce 70 percent of the world's ethanol, have partnered to advance the research and development of biofuels -- and to help other countries do the same.
FACT: More than 40 million U.S. residents visit at least one other country in the Americas every year.