How to be an American Abroad: The Trump Effect

The day after Donald J. Trump’s inauguration as the 45th president of the United States, my Spanish friend joked that Trump would use nuclear weapons against Mexico, after building the wall. He laughed, saying it was just a joke—but all I could think was: it’s easy to laugh when he’s not your president. It’s easy to laugh when your safety—your future—is not at risk, when you have an entire ocean between you and this political monstrosity. Don’t laugh, I responded to my friend, because that very well might happen.

It’s an odd sensation to be following the politics of your country when you no longer live there. As an English teacher in Madrid, I felt gripped and scared and horrified during the presidential race, especially because I wasn’t there, in America, witnessing and experiencing it all with people who knew exactly how I felt. Instead, the connection to my country became a tangled web of technology: my online portal into America accessed through news websites, the Facebook statuses of my American friends, Skype conversations with my family in America, and WhatsApp messages with other Americans who lived outside the country. In my attempt to piece together a virtual America, I often felt like an outsider looking in, desperately trying to keep up with someone who didn’t miss me as much as I missed them.

I kept at it though, needing to talk with people who understood how I felt.

My presence as an American in Spain now meant two things: I became the designated soundboard for Spaniards to reflect on the decline of American politics and I was also expected to provide a justification for Trump’s win. Whenever someone found out I was American, the conversation—understandably yet much to my chagrin —turned towards Trump. They would stare at me, eyes unbelieving, as they listed their shock: how, they wanted to know, could this man get elected? Was it because Hillary was a woman? Is everyone in America racist? And hey, doesn’t Trump remind you of Hitler?

It was exhausting.

Unable—and, I’ll admit it, unwilling—to clarify the nuances of the election process and Trump’s rise, my go-to response was to just shake my head in remorse and make some half-hearted joke about how I would only talk about Trump after the second drink. I didn’t want to open my heart and reveal the pain I felt about this new president. I didn’t want to go into detail about the implications of this presidency for people of color, for immigrants, for Muslims—for anyone who wasn’t a rich old white guy. I didn’t want to share the betrayal and confusion I felt about my divided country and the consequences for America and the entire international community. These conversations were reserved for fellow Americans—friends and family back home or ex-pats I had become friendly with here in Spain. There was something so comforting in talking about our country, without having to explain why. We shared our thoughts, our rage and confusion, already understanding the other before they had spoken.

The physical separation between America and me resulted in a more scrutinizing perception of my home. I’m living in a country with different policies and politics than my own and this has given me another perspective to critique and compare America to. And the reason I continue to argue and cry over my country—why I keep myself updated on American news, actively pursuing the daily grievances and horrors in the land of the free and home of the brave—is because that’s where I’m from. That’s my home. I continue to love where I am from, even though I’m living on a different continent, even though I still can’t wrap my head around Trump’s win and the existence of the Electoral College, even though headlines shout out the latest deaths and atrocities. I refuse to tune out and ignore the protests and the turmoil and the injustice. I refuse to turn my back on where I’m from, no matter how easy it might be.

While I do not know what is in store for Trump’s presidency—and I’m sure he himself is still figuring out all that the job entails—the international protests held against Trump after his inauguration were a much needed reminder of the resistance against the hate and prejudice spewed by Trump and his supporters. The fight is just beginning. And if I have to explain how Trump made his way into the White House to a curious Spaniard in the hope of a better understanding of the political landscape, well, so be it. It’s the least I can do.

After graduating in 2016, Nora Turriago moved to Madrid, Spain to teach English. Born and raised in Massachusetts, she has no regrets about ditching the New England winters for Mediterranean sunshine. Nora is passionate about education as a tool for empowerment, especially for young women and girls. She likes writing, yoga, and eating ravioli.

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