Traveling Abroad from Trump’s America

I left for a two-week work trip to Lagos, Nigeria on the same weekend that hundreds of immigrants from majority-Muslim countries were being detained and turned away at New York’s JFK airport as a result of the Trump administration’s travel ban.

“Creative Commons JFK Protest” by Luminary Traveler is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

For two weeks while in Nigeria, I was amazed to see every TV I was exposed to playing CNN. And every moment seemed to be focused on the Trump administration. African colleagues brought it up almost every single day. What is Trump doing with this immigration ban? Every single day, the colleagues who came with me from New York and I would denounce the ban as unconstitutional, would loudly express our opposition to the ban and, generally, the Trump administration.

Then some days the line of questioning or commentary would shift and they would claim, “this is what ‘real Americans’ are like and that’s how Trump got elected.” And so we would find ourselves emotionally pushing back on the concept that there is such thing as a “real American” because, after all, this is a country made up almost entirely of immigrants and there have always been tensions around the latest wave of immigration but, ultimately, those immigrants too settle in through the generations and are woven into the American fabric.

We would ardently argue that Trump didn’t win the popular vote, that his election does not mean the majority of Americans support him or his policies. We would argue until we just couldn’t anymore because it made us so angry. Every day’s conversation felt like an uphill battle to retain even an ounce of good thoughts about Americans from the people we encountered, from various different countries. It was exhausting.

Traveling abroad from Trump’s America feels radically different than under any other administration, to my experience. The Bush administration was not particularly popular either but there was never an immigration or refugee ban like the one we’re seeing now. The rest of the world is seeing each of us as extensions of the current administration and we are being judged for it. Why wouldn’t they? Why would they give us the benefit of the doubt?

No, it’s our job now to have conversation after conversation, headache after headache to try and get through to even one person that Americans stand for more than hate and discrimination. We are not entitled to the good will of our global neighbors. We have to earn it, even if we have to fight the opposing force of an administration determined to drag our American values through the mud. Because it is a problem when the first question a Nigerian teenager thinks to ask us in a focus group is, “why did Donald Trump ban the muslims?” What we do today will have ripple effects for years to come as younger generations grow up with what they’re seeing now. Though this has always been the case, it seems worth mentioning over and over again so maybe, for once, we don’t forget it. Sow love not hate. It’s only a cliché if you don’t need to say it anymore.

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