“Are you an American?”
“Can I see your passport?”
“How long will you be staying in the country?”
“Where will you be living?”
“Did you vote for Donald Trump?”
Those questions, in that order, were posed to me as I stepped off the plane and entered customs at the Mohammed V Airport in Casablanca, Morocco. Five days after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, I was entering a foreign country for the first time in my life.
The first four questions were answered with ease, but I stuttered at the last. I was shocked at being asked such an intrusive question, and I was shocked at the omnipresence of the man whom the question was about.
I may have left the United States, but the United States hadn’t left me.
Airport customs isn’t the only example. In every city I’ve visited (so far five, not that I’m keeping tally), I have been asked about Trump. I have been asked if I like him, if I denounce him, and again, if I voted for him. My answers vary, but they are almost always half-hearted. Like most Americans, I got tired of the election long ago, and the newfound administration has not rejuvenated my interest in talking politics outside of work.
Simply, I am tired of talking about Trump. But the rest of the world isn’t.
People expect me to represent Trump. To many I have met while abroad, I am expected to answer for or about him.
But I am not President Donald Trump’s spokesperson.
A professor at the school where I am studying made a comment at my orientation about the importance and privilege of being an ambassador to your country while abroad. Particularly for the U.S. and particularly during such a controversial time in history, she emphasized what I do abroad reflects on the entire nation from which I am coming.
My opinions on my president are irrelevant when compared to my opinions on my country. It’s not Trump I feel compelled to defend — it’s the values of the nation that I come from.
I represent the 63 million people who voted for Trump and the 66 million people who voted for his opponent. I represent the 92 million voter-eligible people who didn’t vote, and I represent the 90 million people who were ineligible to cast a ballot.
I represent the United States of America.
My answer to the last question I was asked at customs will remain undisclosed. But my answer to the first always has been, and always will be, a resounding “Yes.” I am an American. And as an American who is studying abroad, I feel a personal obligation to represent the ideals and values of America while in a foreign country.
I want to represent the freedom to practice any religion, partake in any protest, and have my day in court. I want to encourage the notion of debate, celebrate an increase in diversity, and always stay true to my core values. I want to value and support a free press.
While abroad, I feel obligated to hold up the ideals of America — not the ideals of its president.