by Melinda Gallo

Proud to be American

I am not the only one who lives abroad who has felt that my country has left me disappointed and embarrassed at times. I had feared that the Republicans would win the presidency again, and like many other expats would have turned in my American passport if that were the case even though I do love my country. I have always loved what my country stands for, but the direction we have been going in has been painful for us all. Living abroad has opened my eyes to see the world differently. I finally saw how other people viewed the US, and how things are looked at differently by non-Americans.

I remember the first time I went to an American Consulate in France back in 1988. There were military policemen with machine guns standing outside. They took my passport to look at it, didn't believe that I was American, and escorted me upstairs so that I could get checked out again. After I was let inside the Consulate, I remember seeing a long list of countries where Americans were not welcome or were warned about going to because it'd be too dangerous. I didn't even know we had so many enemies out there: I thought almost everyone liked the US. Didn't we go into countries to help people? Weren't we just trying to spread democracy?

When I first moved back to Italy in 2004, if someone asked me where I was from. I would always respond the same thing, "Sono americana, ma non ho votato per Bush. I'm American, but I didn't vote for Bush." I felt that I had to say that because if I voted for Bush (which I obviously didn't), I'd be agreeing with all of his policies, and I don't. Bush has been viewed as righteous, egocentric, and self-serving by many foreigners. And looking at the world events, I can completely understand that.

For the past year, I have been hoping that our country would choose someone who could lead our country toward change. Everyone I spoke to here in Florence asked me about the elezioni (elections). Who did I think was going to win? Who did I want to win? When they knew that I supported Obama, they would tell me that they too hope that he'll win. I didn't speak to a single local who wanted the Republicans to maintain power in the US. I believe that to them, choosing the same party, albeit a different person, would just bring about more of the same.

During the elections, I was a bit surprised by so much talk of Obama's race. I thought that in a country that was built on diversity, we could look at him as a presidential candidate and not by his father's origins. I am, however, happy that he is African-American because it is a sign that our country will hopefully eliminate its racist tendencies and finally recognize that we are all equal.

As of Wednesday morning, I can now hold my head up high and proudly say that I'm American. I know that I am not the only one because almost every other expat that I've spoken to has expressed the same sentiment. Since I've lived overseas, I have never been proud to be American before because of so many inconsistencies between what my country says and what it does. We preach democracy, and yet people are still being prejudiced against in our own country. We run out to help other countries, yet leave our own people to suffer.

I must also say that living overseas all these years has also reminded me about what I do love about the US. I think when you live only in the US, you forget just how fortunate we are to have so many opportunities and possibilities open to us. If I want to become a doctor or lawyer today, I could easily do that. In most other countries, like Italy, your fate is decided before you even get out of high school and once you choose a career, that's it for life. It's extremely difficult, if not impossible, to go back to school later in life to change careers.

I'm certain that many people do not agree with our new president elect, but I hope that we can band together and become a nation once again. Sadly, the elections split us apart to let fear and hate run amok. I do hope that this momentous change will push our country to be more in alignment with the values we hold dear. I am proud so far of the American people for having elected Obama. I know that the opinion of Americans throughout the world has already changed for the better. A new hope is palpable even here in Italy because quite possibly the world can become a better place for us all.

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