Posted in Essays, Reflections, Strangers, Travel Writing

Make America Mariachi Again: Revisiting my favorite prank of 2019

In honor of Election Day in America being exactly ONE week away, I’m sharing a little something special from my time abroad.

SO. Here’s the scene:

I’m walking thru Stellenbosch & I stop on a corner downtown to answer an email.
As I look up I see an obviously lost tourist trying to figure out where all the street signs are. I see a glimpse of his hat & my bleeding-heart-Liberal, registered-Democrat-so-help-me-God antennae buzz.

I wait until he turns around & then it’s confirmed that this kid is wearing a full blown Trump/MAGA hat in the middle of the bucolic South African college town where I now live.

I crumble a bit inside, thinking “I thought I could escape Republicans here!” I simultaneously get mad. “All the ‘work’ I’ve done to convince South Africans that Trump-ites are generally too xenophobic to leave the US & travel somewhere this far! Lest I stand corrected!”

And then comes the moment of, “Okay Self, what are we going to do about this?”
I hear my mother’s pleading voice in my head saying “Don’t engage! He could have a GUN, Micaeli!”
But I mostly just want to know if this guy is American so I walk up and say, “Hey! Can I take your picture?” whilst pointing to his hat.

He does not seem particularly keen and asks, “Um…Why?”
I don’t want to really chat with him because I don’t want him to be able to pinpoint my American accent too easily.
So I just say, with a rubber grin, “Because I like your hat.”

Before he has a chance to protest, the photo has been snapped.
I stick out my hand and say, “Thanks. What’s your name?”
He warily shakes it and says, “My name is Sean” with an unmistakably American accent. (It’s all about the vowels. The long ‘aww-‘ sound in Sean is a dead giveaway for an American.) (Sean is also the name of my only sibling. Of all the names!)

The whole time I am thinking, “Do not engage. Oops, you already have! You’d really better go, Micaels!”
So I shake his hand back and say, “I’m Micaeli. It’s nice to meet you,” before awkwardly departing, leaving him a bit confused on the corner.

(FYI: This is the photo.)

I’m walking away and wondering if my white lie about ‘liking his hat’ was cowardly or self-preserving.

And if I should have just said, “I want to take your picture because your hat is a lightning rod that I thought I’d never have to see here.”
Or, “Hey your hat is not welcome here, young man!”
(As if that’s even my call to make in the first place–like some self-appointed arbiter of American expatriotism.)

I wonder if it was a good thing that I kept my mouth shut.
I wonder what my liberal ancestors would think of me. 


They are heading towards me, about 200 yards away. Three of them strumming three-chord Mariachi and singing in Afrikaans, costumed in yellow satin jackets with sequins and fringe. 

Their whole act is a very strange cultural mishmash and they’re mildly annoying patrons at the outdoor luncheonette before me. 

I am reminded of the mariachi bands that would play on the NYC subway, and how they would always enter my subway car when I was running late or in a bad mood. “Gosh, I’ve always hated a mariachi band….”


I open my wallet, take out a 20 Rand note, and approach the trio as my heart surges with mischief and delight. 

“Howzit! I need your help…” I tell them in Afrikaans, dropping the 20 Rand into their plastic tip cup.

I show them the newly-snapped photo of Sean the MAGA guy on my phone, and then point down the block to show them where he’s still standing on the corner. 

In broken Afrikaans, I ask them to follow him around for a while.
They don’t seem to get what I’m asking.
Annoy this man, please!” I say in English. “Play your music. And follow him.” 

One of the mariachi guys points to the hat in the photo. 
“Annoy Trump?” He asks me. 
“YES! Precisely! Annoy Trump.”

We all share an understanding grin and I snap their picture before leaving them to their task.
The band leader gives me a thumbs up and I feel a giddy lightness as I hear their music move closer in Sean’s direction behind me. 

And then I realize that this feeling is far more gratifying than anything I could have said to the MAGA hat-wearer who has infiltrated this quaint little “no-Trump zone” that I’ve found for myself on the other side of the world. 

And in that moment, as I walked through my little town, I feel like a low-key superhero.
I feel proud.
Proud to be an American.
And proud to have given this fellow young American the warm welcome that every person deserves when boldly wearing a MAGA hat in a third-world, post-Apartheid nation that’s had enough of this shit. 

And I realize the dreadful annoyance of being followed around by an unrelenting mariachi band in a town that you’ve never been to before, where you don’t speak the language, is FAR more punishing than being accosted by a liberal snowflake telling you your hat is stupid. (Which, I imagine, is a response that would have delighted someone like him.)

*Curtseys with a mischievous grin as an American flag is hoisted up in the background, a bald eagle appears from out of nowhere & ‘Don’t Stop Believing’ blasts on the sound system.*

UPDATE: I’ve had this post planned for a few days. This story happened in August of 2019. It is now October of 2020.

And I kid you not, what do I see yesterday but ANOTHER MAGA hat-wearer walking past The Meeting Place on Dorp Street in Stellenbosch.

So what do I do? Well, I get up and run after him to go take his picture of course! Although this time, I ask him if he’s an American. He tells me no, he’s an Afrikaner. But a big Trump supporter. (Clearly.)

“Oh, well, I’m American! And I already sent in my absentee ballot!” I tell him, grinning, before walking away and thinking about how I left out the best part:
That I voted for Biden. 🙂

HEY! If you’re an American citizen, and you’ve made it to the bottom of this mischievous little tale, I JUST WANT TO MAKE SURE YOU’RE VOTING!

If you need information about the voting regulations in your state, or your voter registration, VOTE SAVE AMERICA is an excellent resource for voter information of all sorts. (And volunteer opportunities in key battleground states!) If you’re researching the candidates on your ballot, I highly recommend BALLOTPEDIA as a comprehensive resource for down-ballot candidate platforms and voting records, along with a sample ballot tool, and a TON of high-quality, *vetted* information about local candidates across the country.


Stories of travels, of tribulations, and of learning to tell the difference.

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