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American Abroad: Obama Immigration Speech Made Me ‘Popular’

Image: Joselyn Vargas, 7, of Hyattsville, Md., waves a U.S. flag during a rally across from the White House

Joselyn Vargas, 7, of Hyattsville, Md., waves a U.S. flag during a rally in Lafayette Park across from the White House in Washington, Friday, Nov. 21, 2014, thanking President Obama for his executive action on illegal immigration. Vargas' parents are eligible under the executive action as the girl and her younger sister are U.S. citizens. Jacquelyn Martin / AP

MONTEVIDEO, URUGUAY -- As an American expat, one gets used to abuse.

Not long ago I found myself outside a shabby corner bar in Montevideo being shouted at by a couple of bearded communists, to whom I’d dared suggest that the United States occasionally does things right.

Dear Americans, please understand, the US government is widely reviled. I’ve found seething hatred against the stars and stripes in many corners of the world, from dugout canoes in the Solomon Islands, to Calcutta traffic jams, to remote Patagonian steppes.

Much of the world doesn’t like us, and it loathes our government.

What a glorious moment, then, Friday morning in the checkout line at my local supermarket, Devoto on Avenida Italia in the Carrasco neighborhood of Montevideo.

The Devoto supermarket in Montevideo, Uruguay, where GlobalPost correspondent Will Carless was asked about - and thanked for - President Obama's immigration executive action.

I live right across the street. I’m the neighborhood “gringo” (though there are a few others), and I’m in there just about every day. The checkout ladies always say hi.

It was Friday morning, hours after President Barack Obama had announced an executive action to shield millions of immigrants from deportation. That move is winning applause especially in places like Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras — but also, apparently, at this Uruguayan supermarket.

This time, cashier engaged me in a conversation that began something like this:

Cashier: “You’re from the United States, aren’t you?”

Me (cautiously): “Yes.”

Cashier: “This law that Obama wants to pass – this immigration thing – can you tell me how it works?”

Me (caught off guard): “Well, the president wants to give amnesty to certain immigrants living illegally in the United States.”

Cashier (grinning with joy): “How wonderful!”

We spoke a little more and I stumbled to explain the policy. (It was early). It turns out the cashier’s brother lives in the United States. She said he’s a resident, so Obama’s move won’t impact him, but she said this law was great news for her other friends and family all over the US.

“My family are everywhere, all over North America!” she said.

As I paid for my groceries, she thanked me. Not just for the transaction, but also for the actions of my president, thousands of miles away in Washington, who had done a courageous thing, she said.

I left the store with a curious feeling.

What was this? Could it be? Pride in being from the United States? A feeling of being part of an empire that’s capable of both policies that make people smile, as well as carpet-bombing weddings?

It was a nice feeling. Nice enough for me to write a quick tweet about the experience.

I just wish it happened more often.

This was originally published in GlobalPost.

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