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Is America really the “greatest country in the world”?

There is no room for second place.…If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score?

—Vince Lombardi

Recently, I wrote that American education pales in comparison to other countries’ school systems. But America is still the place for those hardworking, ambitious people who want a better life, right? After all, one reason so many Latinos have come to the USA is that it is the land of opportunity.

Well, when it comes to social mobility — the cornerstone of the American Dream — we have more of a caste system than most industrialized nations, so “if you want your children to climb the socioeconomic ladder higher than you did, move to Canada.” OK, that’s depressing. But certainly, we’re tops in the health of our residents and per capita income. Oh, we don’t crack the top ten in either category… darn. So this leads to a big question: What leads us to proclaim that America is the greatest country in the world?

Well, the belief that we’re the best comes from the idea of American exceptionalism, which holds that the U.S. is special because of some intrinsic, indefinable trait that doesn’t exist anywhere else. This idea is especially strong among social conservatives, who are torn between their need to insist that we’re culturally perfect, yet we’re constantly oppressed by a huge, dangerous government that Americans themselves elected (yes, it’s a paradox).

In any case, It’s quite possible that this belief — that we’re vastly superior to everybody else — has convinced many Americans that it is our god-given right to bring American values to other nations, by force if necessary. It also encourages us to believe that there is nothing wrong with our nation that good, old-fashioned hard work won’t solve. And we certainly don’t want to look for creative ideas from those “socialist” Scandinavian countries (even though they perform better than us by many objective measurements).

Yes, our country is number one when it comes to the size of our economy, which has certainly paid off for the mythical one percent. We’re also, by far, the biggest military presence on Earth, which has convinced al-Qaeda that we’re the Great Satan (terrorists seem to have little interest in attacking Canada, the apparent new home of the American Dream).

But, being the biggest doesn’t mean that we actually offer the best quality of life for our residents. The truth is that many Americans are not happy people. Indeed, other nations “are far ahead of us when it comes to things that matter more to people.”

For much of our recent history, we have insisted that we’re the greatest, but we’ve taken very little time to ask “why, and at what?” Perhaps we should look to those nations that are now surpassing us. We might find that “what these societies have in common is that rather than striving to be the biggest they instead aspire to be constantly better.”

In essence, maybe being number one isn’t that great after all.

About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. BRAVO, Amen, and I second that emotion brother! I cringe when I hear an individual with some variation of this life story: I got my masters. Still live with my mom and dad. I drive a 1980/90 car. I clear $14,000 a year. I have a $600 a month student loan payment for the $100,000 loan I took out 15 years ago. I may be wrong, just my opinion, but it seems to me that the American Dream officially died sometime in the late 1960’s…’cept nobody noticed. It’s been hanging around like Bernie from ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’. No offense, but he’s starting to stink.

  2. Not any more!

  3. Yes, but they should really do something serious about Puerto Rico that will benefit the Puerto Rican people after more than a century under U.S. rule.

  4. No.

  5. lol oh lord

  6. Compare to what country? Compared to some third world country, then yeah. Compared to a country like Canada, probably not.

  7. I’d say that we are the most powerful nation on the planet, but there are many contenders who are right up there with us. As far as being the greatest, that’s a more subjective call – only the most jingoistic nationalist is deluded into believing that we are the best 24/7 in all we do and touch. BTW I’d argue that the quote “if you want your children to climb the socioeconomic ladder higher than you did, move to Canada” is highly inaccurate. Anyone who relies on that as gospel truth should dig a bit deeper and recognize the complexity of these especially challenging economic times.

  8. The US economic engine that made much of the 20th century dominance possible was driven by the blood and sweat of slaves and the seizure of Native American lands.

  9. We THINK we are. I think that flushing the economy down the toilet was the government’s way of ensuring that immigrants were deterred from entering this country. That will show those “undesirables” to come where they are not wanted. It was their plan all along see! Lol.

  10. So (to follow on with what Edward stated) the word “greatest” is quite loaded ….indeed…but I Love this country. The level of opportunity is beyond measure and freedom to pursue those opportunities wide…only variable access to the knowledge of those opportunities hinders the countries true greatness….that’s still a big problem.

  11. In response to Puerto Rico, the United States needs to grant us independence. I am sick of their control of my country!

  12. Cesar, the people of PR vote for that. Be sure to cast your ballot this year if you live in PR.

  13. Trust me Nelson, I’ll be voting for independence and I live in Puerto Rico.

  14. Is that a trick question? It depends on ur socioeconomic status….i think the word great is overrated…im thankful for what this country has given me…but not so happy by the way this country has becomed powerful…its sad that when the work “America” is said everyone automatically thinks of the U.S when in reality the whole western hemisphere is America…there is north..central…n south america.

  15. Sorry to burst your bubble, Cesar, but PR will NEVER be an independent country. It relies too much on the United States to stand on its own. With the kind of government it currently has, as an independent country now, it would be in constant war within its own people. PR needs to become part of the US already. The US has invested too much into keeping PR as a territory, that I am sure it will not give up control that easy. The people in PR know too well that as an independent country, it cannot survive. That is why it has been voted down in the past. Yes, I am Puerto Rican.

  16. I believe the United States is a great country. But sometimes I feel with all the corruptions that this country has.. i.e politicians, we are being laughed at by other country’s. However, I think it would be a much greater country if we would make it easier for those who want to become citizens be allowed to do so..The United States shoud be “proud” of the fact that others want to come here and be part of our great country.

  17. Nope, that’s why I’ll be a second generation immigrant & heading towards the UK!!!

  18. It is much better than most!

  19. What makes America an exceptional country is her constitution. No other country guarantees the right of the individual over the collective. That’s it. In America your right to your life, person, and property are defended against “majority rule”, and the courts would uphold this philosophy embedded in our constitution. Opportunity and success(or failure) can only be attained and retained under the premise of individual rights, a republican form of government.

  20. Aj, Puerto Rico CAN survive as an independent country and not only survive, it will prosper. Want to know why Puerto Rico is dependent on the United States? Because they constructed our economy to depend on them. They created a severe dependence problem in Puerto Rico and that dependence tricks Puerto Ricans into thinking that our welfare is linked to the United States an their federal “aids”. If you live in Puerto Rico like I do, you’d notice the social deterioration that U.S. rule has caused.

  21. Here’s a quote from Pedro Albizu Campos: “A ningún imperio conviene ejercer la tiranía abiertamente y siempre usa de escudo para el ejercicio de su despotismo a los naturales de la nación intervenida. Los imperios combaten su enemigo natural, la causa nacionalista, pero siempre la respetan. Como ningún imperio puede mantenerse sin la cooperación de los naturales del país ocupado por la fuerza, se sirven de ellos, pero los desprecian.” You(AJ) are a perfect example of the truth of the quote.

  22. I don’t think so. However, there was a time that United States was one of the greatest nations in the world, and we did prosper for some time, but that time has been long gone. I would also agree to say that the American Constitution is one of the greatest documents in the modern world. But the biggest problems it faces is the society in which it governs over. Over the past 30 years or so we’ve fallen into a huge political hole of phony politics and lobbyists selling themselves to elitist corporations whose intention is not to help this country, at all. Out of all of the countries in the Americas, id say Canada is now the leader. They actually care for their people, have a transparent government, and is even less corrupt than ours.

  23. @ Rosa Parra the reason people think of the U.S. and not the Americas as a whole is because it’s more than one country and the U.S. is A: the most powerful in the America’s & B: the only country with “America” in it’s name. Just sayin’.

  24. We have been in bad times before and we can jump back and be great again. Americans always find a way, even if there is no solution, we create one. Don’t underestimate the power of all of us combined. If anyone is to blame – Dems as well as Republicans are equally to blame. But that does t have to be like that.

  25. @Cesar ^, Puerto Rico must disconnect, if not severly minimize, federal subsidies directed at the people. As long as commerce is going through the US via policy, she will never be able to stand on her own. PAC was punished for his defense of independance and many Boriquas see him as a terrorist, that is a problem. I totally agree with the dependance of welfare, it creates laziness. That’s just human nature, nothing to do with any particular ethnicity.

  26. @Ed, that still doesn’t change the fact that the USA is NOT the America but an American country. Just saying.

  27. Sanchez says:

    Stop giving money to any teenager who had a baby and enforce immigration policy. Balance the budget and impose term limits. Restore the U.S.


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