"Are you escaping from America?"
The guard at the São Jorge Castle jokingly asked my family and I this question as he heard us conversing in English while walking through the gates of the front entrance.
This was 9:30 a.m. in Lisbon, 4:30 a.m. in the U.S. on Wednesday, November 9th, hours after the results of the U.S. election indicated who would be the country's next president.
Our Lisbon tour guide also made a remark during our drive around the city, asking us with genuine bafflement how things could have ended up the way they did in America. We had no answer and could only politely express our disappointment with the results of the election and the country we would soon be returning to in a few days.
It is the first day of what I can arguably call a shaken America, and I, along with my family, have been watching it unfold from afar. We knew when we booked our trip to London and Lisbon that we would be in Europe during Election Day, but since we are habitual early/absentee voters, we decided to vote ahead of time, take the trip anyway and hope for the best. What we got, and what we see from thousands of miles away, is a wake-up call. The people have voted, and through our Electoral College system, they have declared a winner.
I would be lying if I said I wasn't shocked, distraught and, above all, disappointed. And I not only say this as a U.S. citizen, but as someone who likes to think of herself as a global citizen (though, in truth, aren't we all global citizens these days in some shape or form?). And as someone who travels often, I repeatedly find myself in situations where I am a U.S. citizen first, representing my country as I discover new places and converse with different people around the world.
Back in college, during my travels as a student, I was the girl from the country led by George W. Bush. I vividly recall several conversations I had while traveling abroad about President Bush and the state of America, most memorably a somewhat spirited conversation with a man in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso who wanted to know and truly understand why Americans had voted President Bush to a second term.
Then came the age of President Barack Obama, and man oh man, traveling as a U.S. citizen felt like being a rockstar. Here we were, this country that had voted for change and a progressive America. Here we were a country that had just elected its first black president. Almost everywhere I traveled, it was incredible to be from the U.S. because we had President Obama as our leader. Representing my country was not a hardship, and it felt like the world we had voted for was the new reality. I, a black woman, could travel the globe and speak with so many people who had such love for our black president and respect for a country that wanted to see a black president in office.
But then, as the world began to deal with new terrorism threats, wars and a shift of the powerful elite, we began to see more fear, hatred, exclusion and a deep desire to hold on to one's superiority. We got the Tea Party, we dealt with many instances of open, blatant racism and sexism, we witnessed Brexit and now we have the 2016 U.S. Election. These are jarring examples of how fractured we truly are and just how powerful fear of the other can be. It also shows that perhaps we are not as progressive and united as we, or maybe I, once believed.
So now when I travel and represent the country where I was born, I find myself already fumbling to respond and react on behalf of a nation that I don't fully understand. I find myself already battling a deep bitterness that, logically, I know will not solve or help anything but emotionally I cannot help but feel. When I travel and represent my country, I find myself painfully distancing myself from the new reality of America.
And I fully realize that it's not just about how we look to the rest of the world. It's also about our values and how we embody them in our decisions, the leaders we elect and the way we treat others. This, above all, is why I am distraught. This is why I feel bitterness. The values I know we have are not the values we voted for nor are they the values we are showing each other and our global citizens.
As the shock begins to wear off, I've begun to see an increasing number of posts and tweets focused on how we can move forward together and continue to fight the good fight. It's the silver lining, as many people have said, the way to cope with what feels like one step forward and 10 steps back.
I have no idea what this next presidency will bring or how the world will see us in a few years' time, but I hope that one day I'll get to once again represent my country abroad as a society of acceptance, inclusion, diversity, understanding and progress. I know we still have all of those things; I know this. We just need to get back to a place where these values above all else are what we, as well as the world, equate with America.