Why I Won’t Pretend I’m Canadian

It’s tempting to distance myself from America when I’m abroad. Donald Trump’s reckless policies are often the subject of conversations. And I don’t blame them – what happens in the US has ramifications worldwide. A lot of Americans I spoke to back home in California in the wake of Trump’s election have admitted they’re embarrassed to travel. Some said they’d try to pass as Canadian because they can’t imagine what the world thinks of us. And as I’ve hit the road again, I’ve heard that there actually are some Americans pretending to be Canadian out there. While I share their embarrassment, I feel strongly that is the wrong approach.

The last few weeks have been nothing short of horrifying. Watching my country descend into post-truth fascism through my MacBook in Nicaragua has been a major experiment in alienation. I felt the same alienation from my country as I watched as he tied up the electoral college – a hangover from our slaveholding days, I should add – from my laptop in Copenhagen.

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It was, to put it shortly, a sense of despair. When I arrived at home a few short days after the election, I felt hollow. I was in a state of mourning. I know it seems dramatic, but I truly felt as if someone close to me had died. Because a vision of America that I had did die. I felt we were a country working towards righting our historic wrongs. And now, I feel like that was a hopeless optimism borne by the blindness of white privilege.

Yet just when I should be turning away from my country, I refuse to. I won’t hide that I’m American. I’m proud of all my fellow Americans who are still there in the US, fighting fascism, Islamophobia, racism, and sexism. I’m proud of those who are actively asking themselves “what next?” and who are taking the fight beyond the echo chambers of Facebook to the streets of our increasingly militarized country.

For me, traveling as an American has always been a delicate balancing act. As someone who studied postcolonial theory as an undergraduate, I’m especially sensitive to the ways in which America’s special brand of imperialism and status as “world police” has wreaked havoc over the globe. From the landmines still undetonated in the fields of Laos and Cambodia, to our NATO campaign bombing Belgrade, to the way we overthrew revolutionaries worldwide — from the Middle East to Central America — and installed dictators more to our liking…. we have a lot to answer for, historically speaking.

Here in Nicaragua, I feel that acutely. We were in large part responsible for the civil war that took place here, thanks to Reagan’s proxy cold war battle against the Sandinistas. We are partly responsible for the violence, both historic and present, in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico…. I could go on, but I’m just sticking to our own continent for now. Those who flee their countries to us, often are fleeing directly because of our intervention in their country’s affairs. The way America turned its back on refugees from Syria, Yemen, Iraq, and Libya (among others) is especially heartless when you consider that our interventions there have had a huge impact on why so many people are fleeing their homes at great risk to their own lives.

Yet even as I’m aware of what my country has done, past and present, I don’t want to give up on it — in my own way. My fight is not in America. That’s not to say it’s not a worthy fight. In fact, it’s certainly worthier than what I’m doing. I support everyone organizing against fascism there, and I would be right alongside them had my dream not brought me abroad at exactly this critical juncture. To go home to fight would be to let Trump ruin my dream, and that’s giving the Pussy Grabber in Chief too much credit. No, for now, my fight is here. It’s not a particularly brave fight, but it’s the one I’ve chosen.

My fight is to show the world that this isn’t normal and that a majority of Americans repudiate his ass-quackery. It’s a quiet fight to demonstrate, through words and actions, what my country could be if we stopped paying lip service to the ideals of liberty and justice for all and started actually living it. If I were to turn away from my country and pretend that I’m Canadian as some Americans are apparently doing, I’d be shutting down potential conversations that, while painful, need to be had about American hypocrisy. We need to talk about the racism and sexism, both structural and subconscious, that led to this split personality where we go straight from Barack Obama, the most erudite and eloquent man to hold the presidency…. to Donald Trump, a man who deserves no adjectives.

If I were to deflect responsibility and pretend I was Canadian, I’d be letting the world think that we’re all a bunch of morons who voted in a fascist ginger merkin. While that may be true, the complacency of writing off the warning signs of another country’s follies with “it could never happen here” is exactly why Trump is the Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful military.

I’ll continue circumnavigating the globe, and if you’re a foreigner who wants to know what the FUCK is going on with America, I’ll share my thoughts… if you ask. As tired as I am of giving this pumpkin spice hallucination the time of day after he’s dominated the news cycles for the last year and a half, I feel obligated to have these conversations. Only through speaking evil’s name can we defeat it.

6 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Pretend I’m Canadian”

  1. Yes, to all of this.

    I’m committed to having The Talk no matter how many times my husband and I are asked about Trump et al. abroad–how else does information spread?

    I also think that the “pretending to be Canadian” thing often comes from a place of simple ignorance to the situation abroad–yes, some people can be awful based on race or nationality (projection?), but the idea that every third person is vying for a chance to tell the ugly Americans how awful they are is laughably untrue. The less politically engaged generally don’t much care, and the more politically engaged just want to hear what you have to say.

    • Yeah, definitely! The more I travel, the more I realize that people generally understand that people are not the same as their politicians – which is a lesson we sorely need in the US, actually. A lot of people back home, for example, would always be like “why the hell do you want to go to Iran?” when I would tell them that was one of my dream destinations, because they can’t separate the rhetoric of the government from the people. There are some times when talking about it gets frustrating, but you’re right – how else will information get around?


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