“So, what do you think of the White Supremacy movement in America?”
The question came out of nowhere, lobbied across the table by a Mexican librarian to my blue-eyed, American-accented husband at a small cafe in the state of Chiapas.
That was a new question, but we’d heard many like it before, and have continued to hear more like it since.
A few weeks earlier, in Mexico City, the question came from a policeman we met in a park: “What do you think of your next president?”
On the beaches of Puerto Escondido, an aspiring medical student from Mexico City asked me: “Do you think that Trump being president will damage my chances of getting into Northwestern?”
In Valladolid, it was our taxi driver who was curious: “Do you think that things will change for Mexicans who are living in the United States under Trump?”
For six weeks traveling through Mexico, in more places than we can count, from cafes to hotels, from fellow travelers to Mexican locals, we were asked: “How did this happen? Did you see this coming?”
It was a unique experience to spend the bulk of Donald Trump’s time as president-elect in Mexico, a country whose people he was happy to demonize on the campaign trail.
After answering a dozen odd questions about Trump and Trump-adjacent issues while in Mexico, it occurred to me while exploring Oaxaca that if there’s one lesson that our time in Mexico made clear, it is that now, more than ever, my fellow Americans and I need to be ambassadors for our country.
Please, Americans: if you can, go travel. Travel to countries populated by Buddhists and Muslims and Catholics and Atheists. Travel to places where you are the minority, and to places where the dominant skin color is anything but white. Travel to places where you stumble through their language, to places whose history was not touched on during our time in school.
Get frustrated with cultural differences. Make mistakes. Look stupid. Embarrass yourself — it means that you’re trying.
Go forward and make sure that you learn this lesson, and learn it well: Most people on this planet do not hate Americans. They do not fear Americans. Most people on this planet don’t spend much time thinking about Americans at all.
Speak up. Don’t pretend to be Canadian, don’t hide from your homeland: it made you who you are, even if you don’t always recognize it or support its actions.
Travel our home, as beautiful as it is. Feast your eyes on the lights of lively cities and the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. Soak up the sunshine of the beaches and watch the sky light on fire with a sunset in the plains.
Travel, also, to the small towns of the United States. Visit coal country. Drive past factories with darkened doors and through towns where meth can be easier to lay hands on than a full-time job. See the dilapidated remains of a post-World War II economy that can never be reclaimed, but is still being mourned.
Study how diverse culture can be, even among those who share a citizenship. Remember, always, the humanity of your fellow humans — even the Trump supporters. Even the racists. Even the ones who think that racism is dead and gender equality is achieved. You can be angry, you can be hurt, but you must never be cruel.
Answer questions, no matter how repetitive. Be patient. Be kind — it is the best antidote to any type of hate.
Vow that you will not allow more or less patience for the Muslim man who insists that his daughter wears a hijab than the Christian who believes that women should never wear pants. Vow, also, that you will notice the generosity of white Christians in Oklahoma as quickly as you notice the kindness of the poor Berber man in Morocco who preaches to you that “We were put on this Earth to love each other.”
That is our job, fellow American travelers, for the next four years. We must listen, and we must speak.
The Internet has given us new ways to connect with each other, and in many ways, it has made traveling easier than ever. It has also given us new ways to misunderstand each other and to congregate only with those who think like us. We must make every effort to break from that pattern, to educate ourselves in the ways of people different than us — and also to show others who we are.
That is one of the ways that we push back against this vengeful, bumbling, embarrassment of a president who has been hoisted upon us by the frustrated and the fearful.
I do not know what the next four years will bring, politically or otherwise.
But I know this: for forty-four days we traveled through Mexico, taking its public transportation and speaking to its people and revelling in its delicious food and beautiful nature. Every person who spoke to us about Trump did so kindly. Curiously. They were disappointed, they were sad: they did not want this for their neighbors to the north, or to deal with the potential ramifications that may ripple across the globe.
But they never blamed us personally. The people of Mexico were never anything but kind to us.
We would never have been touched by headlines the same way that we were touched by those conversations.
That is the beauty of travel: to see individuals, instead of ideologies. To see kindness instead of news stories. To see nuance, instead of generalization.
Those who travel have a unique view of the world — and in times like these, it is imperative that we Americans seek out some of those views for ourselves.
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