With all of the arrogance of the young, our country seems to forget how truly young we are. We have only been at this republic business for 240 years or so.
Egypt or Greece could sneeze and it would be longer than the history of our entire country.
Less than 200 years ago, black bodies were property in this country.
Less than 200 years ago, civil war ripped through our country.
Less than 100 years ago, women could not vote in this country.
72 years ago, FDR issued an order to contain Japanese bodies in this country.
56 years ago, Ruby Bridges walked into a segregated school and the country exploded around her.
Ms. Bridges is now 62. She is younger than my parents.
We were a country founded on social and cultural fault lines that are still roiling. Not enough time has passed in our history—these things just happened. This is not ancient history. Children of slaves, women born at a time before they could vote, people who remember being children in Japanese Internment camps, the children who desegrated schools and the children whose schools were desegrated—all voted in this election.
We are a country that was born out of revolution. We wave flags and go to parades and wear t-shirts from Old Navy to our neighborhood barbecues every July 4th and forget that Independence Day means we come from revolution.
I fear that revolution is back. In many ways, perhaps, we are so young that it never went away.
I’m not saying we are going to war. But there is no question: We still feel the aftermaths of the wars that have pockmarked our history in the turmoil of our political landscape.
The smoke has not cleared enough yet for us to know the depths of the damage of this latest political turn.
All we know right now, 48 hours into the election of President Donald Trump (I can’t believe I just typed those words) is this: This is a massive explosion.
In many ways, this fight came to me. I live at the intersection of several worlds. I do not think this is strange. I thought, in fact, until just recently that this is the way most people live their lives.
This is apparently increasingly untrue.
I know because more white people that I can count have come up to me recently and asked me, earnestly: How can I get to know more people of color? I usually blink at them and turn my head mildly like a bird examining a bug. I literally have no idea; why don’t more white people know people of color? Do they not look at their lives and notice that everyone around them is white? Aren’t they bored of hearing the same ideas or the same political opinions or the same religious views repeated ad nauseum back to them? I would be.
Here are the intersections of my life. I realize this could sound conceited or obnoxious or didactic; I don’t mean it that way. I’m just pointing out—matter-of-factly, like my grandfather used to point to areas of his garden (My tomatoes are tall this year; can’t wait to see how that okra turns out!)—what the terrain is like around me every day.
- I’m a gringa who lived in Brazil and Chile. I speak Portuguese and Spanish. I studied Latin American literature in my graduate school program. I married a man whose first language is Portuguese; he is brasileiro at heart. When the time came to put daughters in school, we picked a dual language program for our blonde girls.
- The girls’ school is led by the fiercest team of women and men it has been my pleasure to know. They walk into hard places every day with resolve and determination. Most of them are people of color teaching students of color. These are my daughters’ best heart friends. These are the children my girls are panicked will be bullied or stuck behind some mythical, ridiculous wall, my little girls who are afraid because their friends’ parents are so afraid.
- I have known refugees for almost a decade now. My friend Caren and I started a non-profit working with Burmese artisans, but I have refugees from everywhere from Burundi to Iraq on my speed dial. I have watched their children grow up with my girls. Some are Christian. Some are Muslim. Some are Hindi. Some of them are atheists. We love them all.
- My third daughter is from China. This year in preschool, someone called her ‘trash.’ Someone called MY DAUGHTER trash.
- I grew up a fairly liberal Christian in a fairly conservative city. I was never evangelical, but my best friends were. I go to church most Sundays still. I have relatives and friends who can never imagine voting anything other than a straight Republican ticket. We might disagree on some issues, but I know them to be deeply moral and good people.
- I have been in liberal academia for over a decade. I studied Queer Studies and issues of representation; some of my dearest friends identify as LGBTQ and some of my dearest friends are Latino/a and many of them are deeply, constantly aware of how their bodies are viewed as political terrain. That has affected me deeply. In terms of my research, I can give you at least a century’s worth of examples of hate speech or problematic discourse that has led to where we are today. We talked about those things in the Rhetoric, Writing, and English classes I have taught for years and years. In terms of my life, I have too many stories to name of egregious pain caused by Christians and right-wing conservatives. I have relatives and friends who can never imagine voting anything other than a straight Democratic ticket. We might disagree on some issues, but I know them to be deeply moral and good people.
This fight has been brewing for a long time, but in the last few months, I’ve had this surreal awareness that this fight is coming to my little intersection of the world.
I cannot tell you how much I want to stick my head in the sand and let it pass.
But words are my weapons. When the fight comes, I will do what every person does in revolution—I will defend what is mine.
I will keep telling the truth that I know.
I played Hamilton on repeat on Tuesday because I thought it was appropriate for a day that would see uprising. I watched pantsuit flashmobs and cried at the beauty of the diverse bodies dancing in celebration of a new time that we all thought was coming.
And then that change spectacularly did not come.
I’m going to let the pundits and the historians decide why that is, what happened, whose fault it is, what we should have could have would have if only.
As for me, I’m not throwing away my shot. I’m starting with my refugee friends. But there will be more. There has to be.
I don’t want to have to explain to my white Christian friends why my refugee friends and friends of color heard their votes for Trump as an exclamation point at the end of a long sentence declaring them to be less, to be unwelcome, declaring their bodies to be (once again) political territory, declaring they are keeping America from being great, that they are part of the swamp that needs to be drained.
(I know how Trump means that phrase. I also know how it sounds.)
I know my white friends who voted for Trump didn’t mean that (most of them—I hope not), but the message was sent anyway.
Loud and clear.
It’s not that one of two unpopular people won the presidency. It’s the way he said the things he said and the fact that he was rewarded for it—the shocking nature of this gut-wrenching pain being ignored or not understood—that has us reeling.
I don’t know what this will look like yet. But I know the only way I can live under a Trump presidency is by embracing the subversive tactics of my foremothers, who fought for decades against impossible odds so I could vote. It’s by telling stories, like Zora Neale Hurston, or by trickster strategies, like Zitkala-Sa, or by biding my time, like Elizabeth Bishop, or by ringing out in plaintive terms, like Maya Angelou.
I’m not alone. We are strategic. We are united. We are ready. We will not give up. We will be there, speaking out, listening, standing with, marching for, resisting and resisting and resisting.
We are not just Democrats. There are Republicans out there who are on board with us. We know ourselves by the measure of our language, by the way we listen, by our desire to do better and to do more.
This fight has just begun, or this fight has continued throughout time and we are joining the people who came before us.
As the character Hamilton sings, “The plan is to fan this spark into a flame.”
Hope is not lost. We are not giving up.
Viva la revolúcion.