2008 Elections

My friend Cat and I at the Democrats Abroad Election Viewing Party
Before my first trip to Spain as a study abroad student in 2005, I was warned that the question “Kerry or Bush?” would only be preceded by “What’s your name?”This year, my coworkers and students have all entered election week with a similar question: “Obama or McCain?”And that wasn’t the end of it. I also had to answer “Who is Joe el fontanero?” and why the symbol of the Democratic party is a donkey, since calling someone an ass in Spanish means you’re calling them stupid. Take that as you will.
Their interest reflects on the rest of their country’s attitude towards America and the elections. The anti-Bush, and therefore anti-Republican, sentiment here in Spain is heard as often as shouts of “Olé!” I picked up an issue of Spain’s political satire mag, El Jueves, last month because it was curiously accompanied by a roll of toilet paper emblazoned with President Bush’s face. Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero famously sat while an American flag was being hoisted at the Olympics Games this summer. And in my mock elections, Instituto Heliche unanimously voted for Obama, with only three or four saying they didn’t care.

I wouldn’t call myself a political junkie – not by a long shot – but this year’s elections have excited me more than I expected, especially being in a country that has a stake in what the next four years could bring. As John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge wrote in 2004’s “The Right Nation,” “American power is so overwhelming that people everywhere watch America’s politicians just as closely as they watch their own…People around the world feel that they are citizens of the United States in the sense that they are participants in its culture and politics.”
Take, for instance, my boyfriend. He’s a fighter pilot in the Spanish armed forces and has been serving in Somalia for nearly two months. If my country were to send troops, he could come back to Seville. He follows election coverage more closely than I do, which is why he saw my interview on Televisión Espanol and I didn’t.
And what about the Spanish public? They’re in the midst of a financial crisis, too, which has forced many of my friends here to scramble for cash. When my country, they say, with one of the biggest economies, gets back on track, they can get on to enjoying themselves more.
The Democratic win was a partial victory for them, too. Zapatero praised Obama and looked ahead to better relations with theUS. I was congratulated by plenty of the school staff and my students on Wednesday morning as if I had just won the position.
My students and the other English teachers were especially engaged this year. We spent the week looking at pictures of the White House, learning the words to “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and why the flag has 13 stripes, and talking about the concept of democracy. I’m not overly patriotic and am glad to be living abroad. But I kind of got chills thinking about the democratic process and how the US had overcome several setbacks before becoming a great and powerful nation. That’s not to say we haven’t had huge screw-ups and upset people in the process. I am an American and my passport says so. I have to endure everything that comes along with that.
Democrats Abroad held an election viewing party Tuesday night at an Irish Pub. I arrived early, at 11pm (5pm EST) so that I could get a seat and have a hot dog before they ran out or the kitchen closed. The top floor of the bar was packed and covered in American memorabilia – flags, red and blue balloons and empty Budweiser bottles. Photogs and journalists were interviewing until the first polls were called around 1:30 a.m. Being the great teacher I am, I brought red and blue markers and a huge map of America, to which I had written all the electoral votes at stake in each state. I colored in New Hampshire while Lindsay colored in red with dismay but without losing any ounce of hope.

Kelly and I are from a blue state!

As the night wore on, people from all over the place and from all ages were gathering to support Obama. There were so many people upstairs that the stairway was blocked off! The whole place was full of cheers and chants whenever a state turned blue, and the nail biter states being won by Obama were celebrated with near tears. It was simple – we were enjoying the democratic process and the chance to exercise their freedoms, a concepts even my 12 year olds could understand.

As Spanish as I sometimes feel, I’m still American and very much so.

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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. Love it! Let’s hope for another victory today!

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