When they say traveling means you’re an ambassador for your country, they aren’t kidding.
On the morning of November 9th, 2016 I was eating breakfast and staring out into the busy streets. The owners could see I didn’t want to chat today. I couldn’t hide the fact I did not want Trump to win the election. After I finished my meal, I paid and ran into my co-worker at the door.
She’s from New Jersey. I’m from Virginia.
The first thing I did when I saw her was give her a hug, because I didn’t know what to say. The expression on her face said she didn’t know either.
We walked to work in silence. As we did, things started to happen. We heard shouts:
“Haha Donald Trump won!” “Hey look they’re starting to deport gringos now too!” “Donald Trump won!”
Then I started noticing how heavy my chin was. For the rest of the day I walked around with my head on my chest and the sun beating down on my neck.
In a rural community, people drop everything to stare at you. In a big city, no one pays you any attention. El Progreso is somewhere in between. People on the streets go about their business, but as you walk down the sidewalk, you’re aware that most eyes are on you.
I was used to it, but something had changed. Now, instead of passive fascination, I felt hints of scorn, anger, and mockery burning into my back. For the first time in over a year I couldn’t meet their gaze. I still can’t bring myself to do so without triggering a wave of shame and embarrassment.
Then things started happening at work.
“Listen, Jeff, I came to sign for my mother’s loan today because I wanted to ask you about the election. I run a mechanic shop, as you know, and all of my clients buy their cars using money from their relatives in the US. I’m worried about my business…”
“Hey how do you feel about your new president? We want to know.” Said the client.
“That son of a bitch is going to screw it up for everyone. You wait and see.” Said the man at the store.
“I’m worried for my mother who’s in the US.” Said the student.
For my father, my sister, my brother, my cousins.
A look of fear was seeping into everyone’s face – and I mean everyone: office workers, street vendors, rural farmers, and traffic police. Everyone had watched the election closely. I found this so painfully ironic, because most people in the US probably can’t point to Honduras on a map.
That includes Trump voters. That includes the body of people I represent – the white men – who turned out in droves to the poles and voted for Trump.
I am standing on the edge of the crowd that shares my nationality and my face, and I’m staring into a sea of Latinos. I told them I was here to help. How do I justify the decision of all the other white men who stood behind me and shouted that they would not?
While I have to understand the difference (rural-white America has made themselves heard and deserve to be listened to), I cannot deny that I stand on the losing end of this. Much of my work in Honduras will probably come crashing down, given how much of the economy here depends on remittance money from immigrants in the US.
I’m not making a political claim here, since I can’t say I’m pro illegal immigration, and I’ve certainly met folks leaving for the states that I considered violent and criminal. But working in Honduras has helped me to understand why people leave (and why people stay).
How do I explain that when the president-elect says “they’re not sending their best” he means the father who wanted to make enough money to send their kids to school? He means their brother or sister who left before the gangs could kill and rape them? How do I explain that when Trump said they came from Mexico, where LESS immigrants have been arriving since 2014, he actually meant them; Hondurans, Guatemalans, and El Salvadorians, who compose almost all illegal immigration.
These happenings have abated over the past week, but nonetheless I have to represent Trump as long as I’m in Honduras, and I’m worried too.
I’m worried for my friends applying for visas. I’m worried for the families I work with that survive on remittance. I’m worried for my US friends that are gay and lesbian.
For my father, my roommates, my brother, my cousins.
I’m worried about myself.
As I approach the end of a two-year journey in Honduras, I find myself happy and honored to be working with so many amazing people. But as I set my sights on coming home, I know I may never feel welcomed back in a Trump America.
I may have to represent him abroad, but he certainly will not represent me at home.