We are about to descend on to an unprecedented time here in in the US. While I don’t plan on being so blatantly political as this post is, such writing is sometimes it is necessary. No matter weather you “follow politics” or not your life is affected by politics. As a traveler politics come even deeper into your view, the more you travel the more you know about events in other parts of the world and how they could effect you when you travel and in getting necessary visas for trips, amongst other things. This was originally going to be an essay about what it means to be an American but in the end it has morphed into a bit more of a reflection of the state of America through my month long trip through Europe this past October to now. My thoughts being an American have changed drastically with the results of our election and on this day of the Inauguration it seems more pressing than before to get some version of these imperfect messy thoughts down and out in the world. (Forewarning this is kind of long)
Just a short week prior to the election results, I was still traveling around Europe on my month long trip and my usual travel thoughts about what does it mean to be an American were swirling through my mind. Over the years I have fielded various questions and comments about the country I hail from and I have always tried to best explain the complexity of this huge country to my best ability. I was never an apologist for our faults, quite the contrary really, but I tried to be realistic about why things were how they were. My month long trip in October covered the tail end of the insanity that was the presidential election season. While I expected more questions than I got there were still the inquiries “Do you think Trump could really win?” to which I would reply, “Well Britain voted for Brexit…” while never truly believing in my heart that my trying to be a realist response would become the truth.
My trip Europe trip ended with a few days back in New York to tie up some loose ends before I headed off again for a wedding. I went to get and submit my absentee ballot in person, since I would not be present for the election, the energy in the Brooklyn election office was radiating with hopeful energy. The staff and voters all represented a wide and diverse swath of what makes the city great. As I was waiting for my name to be called to pick up my ballot a small moment occurred that will be seared in my brain forever, now for different reasons than at the time. A Jewish Lesbian couple came in to drop off their ballots and they handed them over to the black female staff member. She walked off to drop the ballots in the appropriate place and when she returned the couple was still there. She made a comment about them not needing to worry about her putting the ballots in the right place and the couple replied that they were not worried but so excited that they wanted to watch the ballots go into the box. The staff member smiled and laughed and gave the couple I Voted Stickers and they left the office beaming. At the time this interaction was a sweet and silly moment but now holds a whole new meaning of what we could be loosing. With my ballot turned in I headed off about my day of errands, optimistic about things to come.
Then Nov 8th happened, back in California, I sat at my computer in disbelief of the results rolling in. “Wait how could this be?” “How is this happening?” Were just some of the thoughts going through my mind. Some of my diverse and fabulous American friends, similarly online and in shock, all began commiserating together on Facebook, our collective view of our country shattered to pieces. How could this be the future we are walking into? My passport sat on my table yet to be put away from my trip with that gold eagle staring back at me. Usually an item of happy memories in this moment filled me with utter disgust, is this what my passport actually stands for?
In these months since the results and on this day of the Inauguration of our strangely and definitely not majority elected president I am left with a different view of American than I had prior. I once thought being an American was tolerating the mess of our large country’s politics in turn for living in one of the most wonderfully diverse places. A land of hope for so many, a land of refuge for others, a land of privilege, and honestly, a land of a pompous superiority complex in a lot of ways. But you take the good with the bad, being born American allows you easy access to this world of ours; being born a white American this is even more true. Our passport allows us visa-less travel the world over and getting tourist visas in most situations is easy enough. I was naïve though, I though we were more tolerant that we actually are, I thought we were more welcoming than we actually are, I thought we cared more.
Every year since I moved away for college I have learned more and more the privilege of growing up in an incredibly diverse area of California, the capitol. For all the shade I’ve thrown towards Sacramento over the years it has only been in leaving and returning that I have realized how drastically my views have been skewed (positively) because of the wonderful diversity that my life has been full of from a young age. At my High School white students were the majority at maybe 30% of the school population, the other 70% split amongst Black, Mexican, South Asian, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino, etc. etc. students. It didn’t feel special then it felt normal to be surrounded by people of different cultural backgrounds. My school was also rather open and accepting about LGBTQ students as well (I am sure it was not a perfectly accepting environment but from what I have heard of other schools across the nation we were certainly in the minority in how open we were).
This is the America I thought we have been slowly making progress toward but it seems like for a large swath of our country this is not the vision, the vision that got the new guy election is one of monochrome. Time will tell how far back we as a country regress but knowing I come from the inevitable America of the future will keep me fighting. The diversity of this world is reflected all across America and we should be want to embrace it for it makes us better. Learning to understanding someone who doesn’t come from the same background as you will always make you a better person and this world a more tolerant, accepting, better place.