This has been my Peace Corps mantra for two years, especially on tough days.
We are often reminded by staff that being a Peace Corps Volunteer is a 24-hour job. We are the windows into America for our communities. We are the examples of what an American is like. Our communities are always watching. Our host families are always watching. Our students will notice absolutely everything. (And tell you they noticed, probably after pointing and giggling with the other baby children at their table.)
So on the days when I am just not feeling it, I take a breath and remind myself, “I’m their American.” And I let out whatever emotion is ruling the day in other ways. And that sometimes includes hibernating away from the Macedonian friends and family I love, because sometimes their American just needs a break.
I’m often asked some variation of this question: “What are/is America/Americans like?”
For two years, I have been telling Macedonia that America is a wonderful place. It’s made up of people who can trace roots all over the world. People born in America or who have chosen to make America their home. People come to America with hope. People are free to live the life they choose, worship in the way they choose, love who they love. It’s not perfect, but I’ve always been proud.
And then, well, election night happened.
For all of the things that have happened in America during my time as a Peace Corps Volunteer, the mass shootings, the protests, the police officers who have killed unarmed men and women of color, the police officers who have been killed – for all of the things I haven’t been proud of, I’ve never been embarrassed to say I’m an American.
But I was embarrassed after the election.
I’ve written, deleted, rewritten, and completely started over several times, trying to articulate how I feel about it all.
I won’t go into the numerous reasons why I think the president-elect is the wrong choice for the job, the number of people and groups he has singled out, mocked, or made campaign promises to harm in some way. I won’t go into the numerous hateful acts I’ve read about since the election, committed by people inciting his name. And don’t even get me started on these neo-Nazis pretending that “alt-right” isn’t just another label for a hate group.
In the last few weeks I’ve been asked about how I voted, asked about how America voted, asked about hate crimes and hate speech and more.
I may be embarrassed and disappointed about the election results. I might not have the answer to what happened or what is continuing to happen. I might be angry and scared for a multitude of reasons.
But here in Macedonia, I’m still their American. And that means that I continue to share love and kindness with my friends, family, and community. I continue on in this 24/7 job, and make sure my community knows that this doesn’t define America. We’re better than this. There is a lot of work to do in America, but for now, my job is to be their American. My job is to show my community that love trumps hate.