Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An American Abroad.

In early November, Bordeaux and I passed through Penang on a visa-run from Thailand. While shopping for breakfast in a neighborhood market, we were chatted up a friendly pastry seller. 'Where are you from?', he asked. The US, I answered. 'Oh!', he responded with more excitement than I was used to, and he raised a thumbs up. 'Obama!' It was the first time in my adult life that someone had mentioned my president, and I hadn't felt a pang of guilt and embarrassment.

The experience of being an American abroad is unusual. On one hand, it would be assumed that by living outside the country, I was renouncing my home country in some way. Yet once I've left its borders, my American-ness becomes pronounced, something I'm forced to wear. I'm introduced as being from America, silently feeling accountable for its misdeeds and mistakes. Upon telling a kid in Syria that I was an American, he responded by imitating the sound of a bomber jet. If I wanted to avoid being 'the American', I would remain in America.

But really, I don't want to avoid being American. I love my country. It's only in the past eight years that I've been made to feel as though I was somehow inherently anti-American: for being on the political left, for not wearing a flag-pin, for not supporting the war, for supporting immigration rights, for not being a Christian, for being a gay man who would like the right to be able to get married in my own country.

So I'm thrilled to start today with a new president, a new administration, and hope for a change that will course through the entire country. I hope we will no longer be a people ruled by fear and hatred, but motivated instead by fairness and equality. And no, I won't be staying in the US to enjoy the new administraion-- but I'll be very proud to be the American abroad.

Photographs taken from the NY Times. And be sure to check out Pret a Voyager's on-the-ground photos of the event; you can really feel the excitement of the day.

13 comments:

Prêt à Voyager said...

i agree. i've never felt prouder. when i was in paris when 9-11, everyone was incredibly sympathic. still it did not stop my students (who were incredibly well-versed in world affairs) asking me the question, "do you like george bush?" how we ever let this happen is beyond me. somehow when bush walked out yesterday, i still couldn't help but feel bad for him. the crowd booed, but it was brief and not as bad as i feared. i'm still not sure if he realizes all that he's done (or rather left undone). but alas, it is a new dawn, a new day. i was thrilled to be a part of it all and experience the sea of people. i'm still glowing inside :)

anne

p.s. and i just love how lovely and down to earth the first family is. michelle's expressions when they were dancing were priceless.

Freshly Found said...

I agree with your sentiments from a South African perspective. The South Africans we visit or see overseas are often so much MORE South African than when they were at home!

kristine said...

my most heartfelt congratulations on your new president!!! Very exciting for americans and non-americans both. and a very well written post.

jess gonacha said...

It is an amazing feeling to be proud of our country again, and proud to have a new and inspiring president. I can't get over how strange it feels to know that Bush is not in charge anymore. What an incredible time to be alive! I'll be curious to hear your experiences of how people's views of America in South Africa and elsewhere other countries are shifting and changing.

Yoli said...

Xander I am right there with you. It feels good to be proud again, not that I was not proud of America but I was horrified that its leader was so out of touch and oblivious. What amazing feeling to have Obama in charge.

T.R. said...

Beautifully said. I think you speak for all of us who either live abroad or work abroad. When asked I used to say "New Mexico" to avoid the inevitable dismissal that normally followed.

Wendy said...

You hit the nail on the head with this post Xander.

Robyn said...

Very well put. I actually never feel more American than when I'm not in America, and I am proud of what America stands for. Now, perhaps, our Administration will begin once again to live up to the ideals that we (used to) hold dear.
We're in Yogyakarta now, and the reception has been wonderful. Photos of the inauguration made the front pages of every paper here and 'Obama' is the first word out of everyone's mouth once they learn we are American. Yesterday a vendor in a wet market even said 'Change you can believe in'!
I have to say, it feels pretty good.

Laura Kelley said...

With the coming closing of Guantanamo - all of humanity should be able to feel the welcome breath of fresh air that is blowing from the US.

About Americanism and the difficulties of being American abroad. I have always felt that it is better to define "American" by the works and words of the founding fathers and the few politicians that have come after - Lincoln, FD Roosevelt, and LB Johnson - who really built or added to the foundation that is America. Of them and their works I am always proud.

We have simply, the most revolutionary foundation of laws that guards the rights of ordinary citizens of any nation. The problem is that sometimes the rule of law is ignored or bypassed for greed or political gain by groups or individuals.

Political inclusion comes in baby steps. In our African American President's first few acts, people of color have been empowered, unjustly held prisoners have the promise of freedom and many women abroad will have access to birth control and reproductive health services.

Those groups not specifically mentioned in our laws as having equal rights - like women and all homosexuals - might find a freer and better world in the near future. One can only hope.

Not to boast - but I created and posted a wonderful "wordle" of Obama's, "Yes We Can" campaign speech on my site that you may want to have a look at. The most frequent words used are: Change, Together, People, Country and Politics - how’s that for staying on message?

Great post - Great site!

Laura

Jonathan said...

I hear exactly what you are saying. The past eight years have been tough what with the worst President of the past 50+ years as our commander in chief. Though for various periods of his disastrous Presidency I have been living in China and it has made me a more thoughtful, appreciative and patriotic American.

I too am overjoyed by Obama's victory and I hope it brings us gay men more rights and public understanding, including the right to marry. By the way, I love your blog and hope you do some non-blog food writing in the near future!

Pecos Blue said...

Great photos.

Elizabeth said...

Yes, we are all grateful that 8 years of tyranny is over.

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