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I am in Costa Rica right now visiting family and friends as well as taking in some beach time. Making my way around the country, there is so much to see. Among the many amazing sights, I also notice the roads and the potholes, the bars on the houses, people walking around with things for sale.

In some circles people say the terms “third world” and “developing nation” are offensive because they classify certain countries as inferior to more industrialized nations. The origins of these terms “third world” and “developing nation” have different meanings that I find interesting.

Wikipedia says the term Third World “arose during the Cold War to define countries that remained non-aligned with either capitalism and NATO (which along with its allies represented the First World), or communism and the Soviet Union (which along with its allies represented the Second World). This definition provided a way of broadly categorizing the nations of the earth into three groups based on social, political, and economic divisions. Due to many of the Third World countries being extremely poor, it became a stereotype such that people commonly refer to undeveloped countries as “third world countries,” often used in a pejorative way.”

The PBS definition of a developing nation is this: A country with a low standard of living, generally indicated by severe poverty, low income and education levels, high birth rate, and poorly developed social, economic, and technological infrastructure. 

The Global Health Equity Foundation defines Developing Nations as “nations with underperforming economies, undervalued currency, unstable democratic governments, lack of infrastructure and low standards of education and healthcare.”

I look around and see the potholes and bars on the houses and wonder about those  classifications of “developed” or not. I’m not sure whether Costa Rica would be classified as “developed” or not (nor am I exploring this in order to figure it out or argue it either way), but I do know the U.S. is considered a “developed nation.”. But what does that mean? Is it about the potholes or the street vendors, the police force, the military, poverty, wealth, freedom?

What are we using to define nations as developed? What is our criteria for developed versus developing? For complete rather than in progress?

As a nation, are we “developed” if women have less rights than men?

Are we “developed” if people have no health insurance, cannot access healthcare, or cannot get needed medications?

Are we “developed” if some people are not protected from violence? (immigrants, Native Americans, lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual Americans, all women)

Are we “developed” if we put much more money into weapons and war than we do into education and arts?

Are we “developed” if we have a high standard of living that we can’t afford to pay for and continue to live in debt?

Are we “developed” if we have people living in extreme poverty and who have no food to eat but we blame them and say they need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps?

Are we “developed” if we make it illegal for women to make decisions for their bodies and encourage high birth rates, high infant and maternal mortality by attempting to outlaw birth control, abortion, and miscarriage?

We are certainly a “first world” nation as we are more Capitalists than humanists. Our corporations have more rights than women and money buys power.

I come from a nation of wonderful people who have had many opportunities and achievements, but we are at a crossroads. At this point, the freedom of all Americans is being threatened. The more rights taken from women, from poor people, from immigrants, from Native Americans, from LGBT Americans, the more violence and hardship for people all over the world is accepted and seen as the norm.

My conclusion: The United States is a developing nation.

We should see this as a compliment. We haven’t arrived yet- we are still getting there. Shouldn’t we always be developing and growing better and stronger?

We are still developing. We are even developing what it means to be “developed” or not. Let’s not think we have arrived, let’s see we have more to do to the best we can be.

Many of our roads may not have potholes, but the roads to freedom, liberty, equality and justice- all need paved. Adelante Estados Unidos! Adelante!

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