Travel in the time of Trump: Peru Security Lady

One of the interesting parts of our trip is finding out how the world reacts to President Donald Trump. We get to see the situation on the ground and hear from normal people, far from the rhetoric of politics. Since this isn’t a point of view you normally hear, these experiences provide insight into how things in the world have changed since the election. These posts won’t have as many pictures, they won’t be as touristy, and they may be uncomfortable.

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Sculptures at Arequipa’s city hall

It’s been a while since we’ve had any lengthy talks with local people on politics. There have been occasional inquiries from fellow travellers, including jokes with some British friends that the Trump election was to help them cover for Brexit. And talk with the locals has mostly been business or answering questions about our travels. But the Arequipeños are fervent believers and actors in politics, and we weren’t able to escape the city without having one conversation about Trump.

It didn’t come from an expected place, either. We had gone to city hall to find some information on tourism, and then discovered that the city hall was home to a small museum on the city. When we went in, it was a bit dim, but we started looking through the glass displays that the ancient maps and traditional costumes of the region. In a few minutes, we heard a nice “Ah, perdon!” a security lady cried out, “I didn’t know you were here. Let me turn on the lights for you.” There was a click and several lights in the room flickered on, illuminating the exhibits. We thanked her and looked through the exhibits and sculptures to our heart’s content.

Just before we were about to leave, the security lady asked if we could sign a recordbook with our name and country of origin. I bent down to write my and Stoytcho’s name, and next to each wrote “Estados Unidos”. The security lady looked at it and smiled. “You’re from the United States? How lovely.” Then a worried look crossed her face. She pulled up chairs for us and sat down herself. And like a neighborhood mother that’s heard of some kind of bad news about your family, she asks “How is the U.S.? The election? Is it alright?”

We were a bit surprised, since you don’t really ever hear the words “Is the U.S. alright” together in a sentence all that often, as if it’s some kind of sick patient in the hospital. We told her that as far as I knew, there were protests and many angry people, but things were fine. But we have also been away from the U.S. for more than two months. All of our information was coming from news outlets online and Facebook.

“And you voted for…?” she trails off. “Oh, Hillary. Definitely Hillary Clinton,” we respond. The security lady nods and says, “Yes. She seemed very good. Very capable and smart. I thought she would do a good job.” I sigh and try not to think about how much calmer things would be for my friends back home if Hillary had won the election. How there might not be people at my school at risk of deportation, or people who were worried for their rights or safety because they have brown skin or are queer or are women. “Yeah, I thought so too.”

There’s a brief silence, and then the security lady asks, genuinely mystified, “Why did people vote for him?” That’s a hard question, made even harder by the barrier of language. Our Spanish is conversational, but not politically savvy. Do we have the words to explain? And even more, what do we say? Do we say it was the poor, rural people that truly are disadvantaged and desperate who carried Trump on their backs? Do we say it was the disenfranchised who saw themselves in neither party? Do we say it was racist, middle class whites who voted for him because they didn’t like Barack Obama and thought Trump would maintain their power? Do we try to explain that there was a massive war of propaganda that coursed through this election on both sides, using lies to drag the lines of allegiance in strange ways? Like everyone who didn’t expect the election outcome, we’ve read the thinkpieces on how it happened, what we missed, on why.

We end up stumbling through an explanation with some help of Google Translate, explaining that there are some people who are racist and voted for him because they agreed with some of the terrible things he said. That there were some people who were poor and ignored by the party and wanted something different. And that our election system is also wacky, so you can lose the election by number of votes but win anyway because of the Electoral College. Security lady listens sympathetically and nods, or squints when she doesn’t understand. We clarify and do the best we can. In the end, she sighs. “He just seems so dangerous. Take care, alright?”

A security guard at a small museum in Peru has warned just us, two U.S. citizens, to take care against a U.S. President-elect might do us harm. These are strange days indeed.

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