I was determined to do my civic duty abroad. I found the online ballot, downloaded it, printed it, and filled it out to elect the first woman president of the United States. California law does not permit voters to send their ballots through email, so my other two options were to mail it in, or to fax it.
I don’t know if you know this, but mailing something, even five pages spelling out a possible political future, is really expensive from Colombia. I also don’t know if you know this, because California leaders seem to have missed it, but fax machines are all but obsolete. Searching Bogotá for a fax machine was like searching for a democrat in Texas. They just don’t exist.
My Colombian friend, Cesar, and I scoured the streets of Colombia. We went to libraries, photocopy centers, and internet cafes. In every scenario, we received quizzical looks. Then I had to explain. I was an American and I needed to vote in this election. The responses were the same across the board. The quizzical expressions melted into wide-eyed stares and they were compelled into political commentary. Trump, they insisted, couldn’t possibly win. They were sorry they couldn’t help me.
This was not the first time I had run into this Trump-aversion outside the US. In Cambodia, India, Nepal, Taiwan, and Thailand, I always had to answer for Trump. European, Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and Latin American backpackers abroad would catch a whiff of my all-American accent and question me about the absurd possibility of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States. How could I explain something so incomprehensible? How could I possibly explain that the United States that Trump described, one of bigotry, sexism, hatred, and fear, was not the United States that I came from. How could I separate myself from the vulgarity that spewed from his puckered mouth? Now that he’s been elected president, the trickle of questions have become a river.
When I finally figured out how to vote at the US embassy, I found myself on US soil abroad with other Americans attempting to derail the impending train wreck of a Trump presidency. Most were Colombian immigrants, the very same people that our new President wants to keep out of the country. The sentiments inside the building were strong. Many were worried for their families, and how their rights would change if Trump were elected. Some were small business owners who resented the billionaire’s tax avoidance and refusal to pay the businesses that he hired. These were the immigrants that he insulted and the “little guys” that he swore to look out for, doing their civic duty to keep this duplicitous man out of power.
After I cast my ballot, I checked into a hostel. I overheard English, Dutch, and Scottish backpackers discussing the election. They brushed off the possibility of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States, despite the creeping red line on the election polls. All that night I bit my finger nails and watched as the red Republican line representing Trump came closer and closer to closing the presidential gap. But I wasn’t the only one. The Scottish and Canadian girls in my dorm room also kept a live feed of the polls. I heard one of them wake the other up at 3am to announce the results, and this is how I found out.
I don’t think those who voted for Trump realize the extent to which the world is affected by his presidency. I don’t think they’ve considered how his exclusion, vulgar words and actions, unthoughtful policies, and overall poor character, has made the world a sadder place.
Wednesday, November 9th started just like any other day in Bogotá. Cold, rainy, and cloudy. For once it seemed to match the mood of the travelers in the hostel. Backpackers from Malaysia, Scotland, France, Canada, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, and more gathered at the breakfast table and expressed disbelief, sadness, and incredulity. The Venezuelan woman asked if I was okay. Being no stranger to appalling leadership herself, we commiserated together.
Traveling has not only given me a broader understanding of the world, it has changed my understanding of what it means to be an American. I often run into criticism from other backpackers who expect me to be vulgar, loud-mouthed, and keep bad politics. I meet others who expect me to be friendly and kind. I’ve found myself in the middle of a cow pasture in India awkwardly accepting thanks from a villager who was honored to have a real-life American in his pasture. In any scenario, we always have a lot to answer for. And this, among many other things, is what makes me feel so disappointed with this election. The way my country voted today tells the world that we favor fear-mongering, hate, and vulgarity above everything else.
Today I carried on as normal. I wrote and I socialized and I cooked and sometimes I would forget that my country has taken a step back from progress. But then I would look at my Facebook feed, or receive a message from a friend or family member. Women dreaded the rights to their bodies being violated, people of color feared violence and racism, the LGBT community were in terror of having their rights rolled back. And then I would remember and I would feel empty.
It is inconceivable to me that one man who causes so much fear and pain is now my president and that this man who threatens so much freedom is now the leader of the free world.
Let’s stick together, stay safe, and spread love not hate.