How Living in Spain Made Me Question My American Identity
“How can someone like Trump be winning in your elections?” asked a fellow hiker on a day trip through the mountains. “Why is the USA so dangerous with so many guns?” asked one of my concerned sixth grade students. “How can you celebrate colonization through a holiday such as Thanksgiving?” asked a friend while discussing holidays in the USA. These are just some of the questions I was forced to face while living and teaching in Ourense, Spain. While I have personally reflected on these issues myself, I have never before been faced with the expectation that I have all the clear answers.
Although I’ve had many formative experiences in my life, both abroad and in my home country, I was never before directly forced to question my cultural identity quite like I was during my year in Spain. It had a lot to do with the fact that Spaniards are typically very vocal people, even with sensitive subjects, and because it was the year during Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.
“How can someone like Trump be winning in your elections?” asked a fellow hiker on a day trip through the mountains. “Why is the USA so dangerous with so many guns?” asked one of my concerned sixth grade students. “How can you celebrate colonization through a holiday such as Thanksgiving?” asked a friend while discussing holidays in the USA.
Almost every day there was a different news story in La Voz de Galicia, Galicia’s regional newspaper, about current events in the USA. My coworkers, peers, and students sought me out as their source of information. Whether I considered myself to be the best source of knowledge on these events or not, I found myself surrounded by curious people.
While I gave the best answers I could, most of the time the questioner and I were both left unsatisfied with my mediocre reasoning. These questions are often wildly complex, and although it is not my duty to know the correct answers, it is my responsibility to think critically about them and have the ability to discuss them in an intelligent and thoughtful manner.
When you are born a citizen of one of the most influential countries in the world, you don’t get to choose to sit back and refuse to question your cultural norms. When living in another country, you are an ambassador of the place you come from, but blind patriotism is not an option. People will look to you for answers about your country’s morals and ideologies, whether you agree with them or not. While having a US passport is a privilege as a foreign traveler, it comes with the necessary and inevitable process of questioning your culture while experiencing another.
Through living in Spain and questioning my American identity, I have gained the confidence to be assertive in my opinions. I find it extremely beneficial to have these conversations from time to time, and I’m thankful for the experiences in Spain that allowed me the space to critique and analyze my American identity.