“When I say I’m American, people say ‘I’m sorry’”
Ameena Payne, 31, is a teacher and masters student who has lived in Melbourne for the last six years. She grew up in Chicago
“When I first arrived here in 2014, I remember people being intrigued by the fact I was American. They’d say they had always wanted to visit.
But recently, when I say I’m American, complete strangers will reply, ‘I’m really sorry.’ It’s not great, is it, when people feel sad about your home country? Unfortunately, the US is a collapsing nation and our leadership has been a bit of a joke since 2016. It makes me feel very embarrassed.
In fact, the last few months have been a rollercoaster of emotions. I’m concerned about my parents, who live in Chicago, because of their age group and ethnicity. Black and Hispanic ethnicities have much higher death rates [from Covid-19] and my mum works in public health, so I worry about that. Compared to Australia, where people are willing to mask up and abide by regulations, Americans aren’t being nearly as safe.
It’s been really tough to see what’s been happening in my country. To see a black woman like Breonna Taylor be unprotected by our justice system and not be able to contribute, because I’m overseas, has been really hard. It has mobilised me to do some advocacy work regarding policing in schools in Champaign-Urbana where my mum lives, and where I went to high school. But it’s been draining. I’m lucky to have a job where I can set my own hours, because I’ve needed to take some mental health days.
People ask my opinion a lot and I actually had to put boundaries in place, for my own mental health. I just had to say, ‘I really appreciate that you want my opinion but there are so many great articles out there to read. I can’t talk to you about it right now.” I was in a place where I was just exhausted emotionally and couldn’t give freely of myself. All my friends here understood how I was feeling.”
“I’m the arbiter of all things American”
Jana Ryan, 44, who works in interior design, has been living in Melbourne with her husband and two boys for the last six years. She grew up in Savannah, Georgia
“During the last US election campaign in 2016, I was working in Collingwood and I remember local people in the cafes and restaurants asking me what was going on. The same thing is happening now: It’s like I’m the arbiter of all things American, and people are always asking me, ‘Why is this happening?’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’ I have a hard time explaining it to myself, it’s just so bizarre.
This election has spurred me to move forward with obtaining Australian citizenship. I’m not going to renounce my US citizenship but I’ve realised how important it is for me to vote in Australia. I’ve been so consumed with American politics, I should be active in Australian politics, too – how can I really have an opinion on an issue if I’m not voting?
I’ve already cast my vote in this US election for the Democrats and while I think Trump will be voted out, I’m reluctant to say I’m hopeful. The last election hangs over my head – I had no doubt Hillary was going to win. I felt that right up until I was sitting in front of my television crying with my kids beside me. I can’t let myself go there again.
I’m grateful to be raising my children here in Australia, rather than having to worry about them getting shot at school or anything like that – it feels safe. But my entire family and friends are still in the US, so it’s really hard to navigate my emotions. I feel split.
I’m a member of a private Facebook group that one of my friends set up in 2016 as a place where she could talk openly to likeminded people – because there aren’t that many of us in Savannah, Georgia. There’s still a deeply conservative Republican Christian mindset; I grew up with people who had maids and cooks who could only enter through the back door of their house.
And people in this Facebook group are gearing up for another Trump term. One woman said she’s stockpiling morning-after pills, on the off-chance that someone needs help and won’t be able to get them. Which sounds crazy, but little by little these rights are being eroded.”
“I had a hard time voting Democrat”
Merida Anderson, 33, first came to Australia as a backpacker in 2009 and loved it so much she stayed. She grew up in Maryland, Washington DC, and works in Melbourne as a legal practice manager
“Coronavirus has been scary as my dad had lung cancer last year, so he’s in the high-risk category – he’s been pretty much in his house since March. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I can only go home if one of my parents dies, as I’d have to quarantine for 14 days so I couldn’t be with them if they were sick, and if I leave Australia I can’t get back in because of my [bridging] visa.
What’s strange is the difference between how my friends here and those back home have reacted to the virus. Young healthy people are dying and I’m very scared of getting it, and also passing it on to someone vulnerable. But some of my friends in the US have had it, and they’re going about their business, and they’re like, why aren’t you guys rebelling against lockdown? And I’m like, because Australians care about each other.
I can only go home if one of my parents dies
Most of my friends here are Australian or Kiwi, but I have two really close American friends and during the traumatic experience of this election cycle it’s been really good to have them here. I’ve always felt the world doesn’t look kindly on Americans, but of all countries, Australia is the most culturally similar, and our colonial histories are similar, too. At the moment, people do want to talk to me about the election, but really they want to talk about Trump.
Trump isn’t the cause of America’s problems, which stem ultimately from 40 years of deregulation and neo-liberal policies that were 100 per cent perpetuated by the Democrats and Obama. Trump is a distraction from this. I’ve voted Democrat, but I’ve had a really hard time this time. I’m not sure Joe Biden is the harm-reduction candidate. We’ve had incompetent imperialism and no new wars under Trump; Biden is a hawk.
There’s no energy in Biden’s campaign, no one’s excited about it. I think Trump’s going to win.”