“Loyalty to country ALWAYS. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.”
― Mark Twain
Usually one of the first questions I am asked about being an expat besides the “What do you do in Nicaragua?” or “Are you a missionary?” is “Why did you leave America?”
My response is that I never left America. I am still here. I live in Central America. If that doesn’t piss them off, then I could say that I am a political refugee from the Divided States of America. But, I never say that because first, it is a lie, and second, I love my homeland and I really don’t like to create tension or controversy unless it is a last resort. I am a mediator at heart, I seek peace.
So, when angry people respond to me in a political discussion, “Love it, or leave it!” what is the appropriate response? Why is it that expats are seen as less patriotic than those who stayed in their home country? Can expats be patriotic? If so, how?
To answer the question of why we left
America the United States, generally I say it was for a sense of adventure. We worked so hard, and made a good life for ourselves in the states, but we became complacent. We needed quirky and found it in the “land of the not quite right.”
We are country people at heart. Nothing fits us better than a simple, uncomplicated lifestyle. How many places in the world can you wake up and watch the fishermen casting their nets for their dinner outside your front doors?
I read a thought-provoking article today in The New Yorker. A Washing Machine That Tells the Future.
Smart appliances are revolutionizing commerce, but there is always a cost. In the “Internet of Things”, a fundamental shift is taking place in the relationship between customers and companies. What would Whirlpool think of our laundromat? For many aspects of our lives, we prefer the old ways where washing is a zen-like moment, our washing machine doesn’t spy on us, we can easily repair it, and it only washes our clothes…we can think for ourselves without the help of a smart washing machine.
Nicaragua is a small, yet diverse country. In an hour or two, we can body surf in the Pacific Ocean, watch an active volcano spew molten lava at night, hike through coffee fields in the mountains, or fly to the Caribbean for a mini-vacation. The United States has a lot of diversity too, but we like the homey feeling in a small country where transportation and lodging is cheaper, the distances are less, and we can take numerous mini-vacations in our adopted country.
I devoted my working life to teaching and social services. Moving abroad only made my passion for service to others stronger and easier to fulfill. Where is the world can one start an elementary school library, hire, fund, and train a librarian, and provide a needed service while living on a fixed income? Nicaragua, of course.
Because we are retired, we have more time to garden, paint, and do more creative projects. If we need something that isn’t available on our island…we make it! Moving abroad, my creativity has flourished and blossomed in a variety of beautiful ways.
People often ask us what we do all day. Some days we just watch cows graze. That’s what we love about living abroad. There is no rush…there is always mañana. A no stress lifestyle, unlike our former lives in the states, is perfect for us.
The cost of living is about 1/4 of the cost of living in the states, which brings me to the main reason we left our homeland. We jokingly call ourselves economic refugees. We probably would have been able to ‘survive’ in the states, but here we thrive. We can travel all over the world with the money we save by living in a developing country.
One day, I had a toothache. I knew it would be a few days before I could go to the dentist on the mainland, so I went to the pharmacy to get amoxicillin and hydrogen peroxide. No prescription is needed and at a whopping cost of $3.50 I bought 20 amoxicillin and a bottle of Agua Oxigenada. In two days, the inflammation and pain was gone. Try that in the United States!
So, now that you know why we left
America, the United States, I want to finish on my thoughts of patriotism. Yes! It is possible to love your country and leave it. I am loyal to my country, the founding principles, our Constitution, and the opportunities my country has provided me.
My sense of patriotism is rooted in the love of my land and people, and love, too of the best ideals of my culture and traditions. My voice is often drowned out by the voices of another kind of nationalistic patriotism that marches to military time; those who like to puff up our country by pulling others’ down, those who say, “Love it, or leave it.”
Patriotism to me means love and loyalty to my country, not blind loyalty to my government. It is difficult for me to wrap my head around blind loyalty to anyone or anything. In fact, historically blind loyalty to our government is dangerous…unleashing wars in the name of our nation…dissecting and obliterating the essence of democracy in the name of our patriotic duty… and don’t get me started on the nationalistic propaganda disseminated to fill us with terror, fear, and division.
How does an expat actively participate in the democratic process from another country?
It is easier than you may think.
1. I apply for an absentee ballot, and I not only vote in the presidential elections, but I also vote in my county and local elections. How to Get Absentee Ballots for U.S. Citizens
2. I attended the Women’s March in Los Angeles. The thrill of my lifetime! A Sea of Humanity
3. I am the Warden for the U.S. Embassy for Ometepe Island Responsibilities of U.S. Embassy Wardens
4. I fax my state and local representatives daily with Resistbot. It is a user-friendly bot that will find your representatives, and fax your messages directly to your representatives.
5. I read, research, and thoughtfully dissect news articles and CNN International. I have learned so much this year and have become a kind of political wonk.
I think our most relevant American patriot might well be Thoreau, who, a hundred years ago, said, “I am a citizen of the world first, and of this country at a later and more convenient hour.”
I will always live with eyes without borders first, and loyalty to my country second. I love my country AND I left it.
What does Patriotism mean to you?