The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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CHICAGO —On a beautiful day this bustling city does not look like the traditional Middle West business city most of us usually think about.

We drove along the lake shore at sunset Wednesday and I could not help thinking how farsighted my husband's Uncle Frederick Delano and his friend Eliot Norton were when they urged the plans which made these drives possible. I am sure in the gray days with cold and wind Chicago can be all the disagreeable things that sometimes people think about. But when the weather is mild and the sun shines and the lake shimmers, it is really a beautiful place.

I drove to the South Side Wednesday night to give a lecture with a backward look at our last 50 years of development in this country. On Thursday night I drove to the North Side to talk on another subject, but because Chicago always seems to me one of the most important areas where business thinking generates, I want to write today about one of the important economic problems facing our country as a whole at the present time.

Everywhere people are asking whether our foreign aid really acocomplishes the objectives which our government tries to achieve. Do we win friends through foreign aid? Do we improve our own economic outlook as well as the economic outlook of other areas of the world? Do we impress on the people that we touch through foreign aid the values of our democracy?

Let us take first our nearest neighbors in South and Central America.

Cuba has given a great many of our people food for thought, but have we really understood what led to Castro's success and what is going on there at the present time? Have we ever really analyzed the background of the Latin American countries—our near neighbors with such a difference in climate, in people and in achievements from our own nation?

Not long ago a lecture was given by a South American who has lived and worked both in his own area of the world and in the United States. He is a Rotarian and has come to love this country, and so he started his lecture with a quotation from Arnold Toynbee: "To understand what is happening today we must weigh what happened in history." Then he tried to give an analysis of the Latin American problem.

Basically, what he pointed out is that geography has a great deal to do with the development of people, but that the different backgrounds also count enormously.

North America was settled by workers who came here at the beginning to obtain certain spiritual and moral freedoms and they did their own work in great part.

Because we have a variety of climates in our country we at one point introduced slavery in a part of it, and developed some similar characteristics in that area to what can be found in some of the South and Central American countries. So it should not be impossible for the North Americans to have a greater understanding of the differences in background which Spanish conquerors, who did not want to work themselves, developed in South America.

Down there, for the most part, the mass of the people were exploited to enrich the few, and the masses never had any well-being or any opportunity to strive to pull themselves out from the grip of the downtrodden to form a leaven that would stir the conscience of the upper classes. As a result, the masses have been restless and unhappy and we look at one revolution after the other but see no real change.

It simply means that different power groups still oppress the masses, and what years ago might just have been a problem of land distribution has emerged into an industrial problem. There is little opportunity given to small industries to build up and bring about better conditions for greater numbers of people.

In South America there is a concentration of the wealth in the hands of a few. This is something people in the U.S. should be able to understand because it is one of our problems as well. And with automation we are reaching a point where we inevitably will have to face and decide how we are going to bring about full employment and a wider distribution of our wealth. But we must admit that we have a better background for working out our problems.

I do not think it is hopeless for us to understand the South American situation and to give some realistic aid. But we should take the analysis from people who know Latin America from the inside and also know the differences in temperament and in historical background. They can, therefore, suggest the kind of incentives that we could give in this situation which would make the masses of people feel that they had hope of doing away with some of the poverty and disease which has made life a round of toil and suffering for many of them.

Let us stop worrying about the Communist influence and recognize the fact that the Communists would be duller than they are if they did not exploit the situation that exists today among our neighbors to the south. It requires from us greater understanding, more real knowledge and a realization that through whatever we do we must bring to the masses of people an understanding of the real values of democracy in physical, moral and spiritual well-being.


(Copyright, 1961, by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Chicago (Ill., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 6, 1961

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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Available under licence from the Estate of Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.

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MEP edition publlished on 2008-06-30

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.