Given recent events, I’ve found myself watching from afar and wondering if we migrants (immigrants and emigrants) will ever be free of national accountability. Will there come a time when we won’t be called on to explain the actions (“right”, “wrong” or “indifferent”) of governments and people back at home.
Over the last few weeks, as reports of unprosecuted police violence against African Americans have poured out of the United States, I’ve noticed, and heard from friends (expats and other travelers), that we’re being asked to answer questions like “What’s going on in America”.
And, while I haven’t spent more than a few days at a time there in over three years, it’s becoming clear that, unless I adopt a full Irish brogue, I may always be asked to account for the actions of those back at home.
Don’t get me wrong, I love a good political scrum as much as the next curmudgeon. And, I’ve grown use to the Irish lack of inhibitions surrounding elections. They’ve no compunction about asking who I, as an American” vote for every time a U.S. presidential election rolls around. But, then again, the rest of the world has a much bigger stake in those contests that most Americans are willing to countenance.
The, “Why should we care what the rest of the world thinks” attitude bandied about by bloviating American politicians is all well and good until they realize that, when the U.S. catches the flu (economically), the rest of the world gets a cold. And, if the United States wants to continue selling in “friendly” markets, they’d do well to realize that the world is watching. But how much of that PR burden should we, as expats, be asked to shoulder, and for how long?
Is it just major countries, or do issues of national identity and responsibility follow all expats? If you’re a Haitian refugee who left 20 years ago, have you been asked about events in the past few years?
If you live in a territory (or one time colony) are you responsible for the actions of the empire? If you’re originally from Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands, are you called to account for America’s bad behavior?
If you’ve moved around, living as an expat in multiple countries, when do you stop being asked about home? Or is the first question, what country do you consider to be “home”?
I don’t know the answers to these questions (if they even have “answers”), but I’m curious to know what other expats have run into.
I have a friend who’s been living abroad for 20+ years. I wonder if he still gets asked “the question”. As he’s still got his southern accent, I suspect the answer may be yes. I’ll investigate and report back.
For anybody who left their home country (or is thinking of leaving) because they can’t stand to be associated with some social or governmental policy, be warned; there seems to be a certain “you can run, but you can’t hide” quality to being asked about life back at home.
That aspect of tribalism seems to run very deep, and remains extremely hard to shake. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s good. Maybe it helps us remember both the reasons why we left, and the good things about home.
Things to look forward to in upcoming posts:
Finding the “Right” City For You