The invisible role of the expat

airplaneI went to read some academic literature (as a Ph.D. student, there is never an end to the literature) at Starbucks – a caffeine-beverage-driven study locale.  Between sips and notes I realised a couple of folks had sat down nearby and started up a conversation that had clearly begun before this moment.  After listening in for a minute (I know, I know… but hear me out) I realised they were discussing the US election and the current cultural zeitgeist.  The woman seemed pretty reasonable and level-headed.  The man she was with nodded along as she described the current political climate.  At no point did she seem wrong in her commentary but I something felt odd and instead of note taking I just sipped my coffee and contemplated what was bothering me.

Eventually, I decided that I was troubled with the “absolute”-ness of her explanations.  Like I said, I didn’t disagree with her, but I can’t help but think that she wouldn’t have chosen so many “this is why this works and this is how that is” statements if she knew an American was sat behind her listening.  Perhaps it’ll be a future research project (does anyone want to give me grant money?) but it made me wonder, how do Americans abroad explain America?    

We are a big chunk of citizens who have a big responsibility.  We are the guerrilla public relations team for our country, for better or worse.  We do a disservice to citizens back home if we say things like “Hilary should have won, the electoral college is an outdated system that has no place in society today” or “50% of America has traditional home values, and the liberals need to learn to deal with that” without at least reflecting on what pieces of the puzzle you’re leaving out.  I hope that had I been part of the Starbucks conversation there would have been more “I don’t know about your experience, but this was mine…” It may seem like a small, unimportant detail but it affects the way others view us and I think, now more than ever, we need to put our best foot forward.

I suppose the nugget of “wisdom” I’m trying to convey in all of that is simply: speak as though another American with different experiences is sat listening to you… because they might be.

We have a long, tough road ahead and as a self-proclaimed logic and reason abiding American in a post-truth, post-Brexit UK I’ve started my Battle Songs playlist.  It's time to get to work!

-Danielle

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Being an artist during difficult times

I wrote the following after the Trump inauguration, when the suggestion of eliminating the NEA and NEH surfaced. I shared it with my old high school, hoping it might do even a glimmer of good. And it is a sentiment worth revisiting often… your art matters. And art helps push forward the resistance.

To any worried young musicians, writers, dancers, photographers, and anyone who dares to learn an art –

Your art, whatever it is, matters. You will create everything beautiful in this life. When you tell people you want to dedicate your time to mastering music, dance, etc they may laugh and tell you that you're committing yourself to a life of poverty. But it isn't funny. I hope there is someone in your corner cheering you on, telling you it's going to be really fucking hard but if you want it, you need to go and work for it. If you don't have that person, I will always be in your corner.

People who wag their finger at you will listen to music, watch TV, they read things. They consume the blood, sweat, and tears of people like you. You have your hand in everything that is beautiful. No matter what happens to the NEA and NEH we will probably always need to put up the good fight. Countless people have stood and continue to stand in your corner. Art matters. YOUR art matters.

There's a long, hard fight ahead of us, but this isn't new. You are the descendants of Keith Haring, of Woody Guthrie, of Audre Lorde, and everyone who has dared to rise to the challenge.

And I just want to welcome you to the family.

All my best,

Danielle Prostrollo
Violist

Picture used under Creative Commons license