The term “expatriate” bothers me. Although my dictionary defines it as a person who has withdrawn herself from her native land, to me it carries the implication that one is no longer a patriot of her native land. Untrue in my case. Living in Chile for over four decades I feel a deep sense of loss for the land I left and have experienced an increased awareness of my nationality. I’ll always be different, the gringa, the one with the accent. Constant reminders of my country’s politics and influence wave like flags from Chilean and CNN International newscasts and in the deluge of emails from my political party begging for money. I am no longer so far removed from United States’ affairs. A few days ago I watched live reports from the UN General Assembly meetings, dealing with the urgent and troubling state of world affairs. My country is right there, up front, everyone looking to it for answers and action.
My very lengthy California absentee ballot arrived by email last week. I wrote to the county registrar, concerned that, as an “expat”, I thought I was allowed to vote only in Federal elections. She replied that California law changed, permitting me to vote for local candidates and issues. Oh-oh was my first reaction. I haven’t a clue how to vote. But then the obvious solution came to me: I’d consult my friends. When I fly to California next week, I’ll take my ballot with me, sit down at my hostess’ kitchen table and make more informed decisions.
From this distant land, I do what I can: signing on-line petitions, posting messages “Save the Bees” and “Stop Fracking in California” on Facebook, sending donations and keeping informed. My New Yorker son emailed that he’d gone to the Climate Change March there. I knew he would. I would have joined him if I could have.
My patriotism extends to my adopted country as well. I tear up when the national anthem is sung. My legal status of “permanent resident,” grants me the right to vote and actively participate in this country’s affairs. I have focused on the local neighborhood level. During a campaign to prevent the construction of a mall nearby (we won), I got to know several like-minded neighbors and together we struggle to preserve the sense of neighborhood in the face of encroaching high-rise buildings.
Headed to the supermarket this morning, I took along my bundle of cloth bags, explaining to the bag girl the need to care for our planet. At the pharmacy, I refused the plastic bag for two small boxes of pills, suggesting to the clerk that they ask their clients: “Do you need a bag?”
Small gestures, I know, but I am a gardener and can’t help planting seeds.