The elections have taken over everything. It’s been the dominant topic of conversation I overhear in the streets and on the bus; it’s what my colleagues and students talk about over breaks and occasionally in the classroom; and it’s all over my Twitter and Facebook feeds. People are rattled and they are truly afraid. Too many posts have been written about this at this point for me to even try to link to them all.
I want to use this post to offer a slightly different perspective. I am a foreign scholar, currently on a temporary contract and looking to find permanent employment in the United States. A few months ago I applied for a Green Card, and I’m still waiting for that process to run its course. This post is about what it’s like to decide to adopt a country that seems to have decided it may not want to adopt you back. I say this despite the fact that I know not a single person who’s expressed this thought to me, but clearly those people are out there. So while my American friends are talking about despairing and even leaving the country, I am working hard to become a member of their community. I’ve had several conversations with them about why I chose to come and stay here, and what my other options might be. Their desperation seems commensurate with their awareness of what things are like outside the United States,* so this post is my attempt to explain my own thinking on this topic.
In my home country, I am not a racial or religious minority. But I hold political views that are never represented in government and decision making, and I hold no hope that this will change any time soon. Some of my activist friends do amazing work protesting policies they disagree with and hateful decisions and actions taken in their names, but the work is incredibly time-consuming. For most, it’s taken over their lives and has become a second job. For me personally, there are no jobs in my field there, and it’s not clear that I could live there even if I wanted to. Most of my friends who have similar backgrounds and goals as me have left for other countries, although most hold out hope of being able to one day return.
I have lived in several European countries. Europe was a big paradox for me. I lived in countries where I felt incredibly comfortable, and where I was not, myself, a persecuted minority. Or, at least, the opinions were probably there, but it wasn’t acceptable to express them out loud and I never once felt singled out or hated. Yet I can’t ignore the fact that others are now persecuted minorities, that immigrants are disliked,** and most importantly, that these same countries have a track record of ruthlessly dispatching with their minorities, to put it mildly. Parts of my family were some of those minorities. It shaped how my parents were raised and how I grew up; it’s a central issue in my life that has shaped my personality and my belief system. Being comfortable in Europe scared me, because my ancestors who felt the same paid for it with their lives.
For close to a decade now, I have lived in the United States. This is where my home and family are. I have no illusions that it’s a perfect country. It’s not. If ever there was a doubt, the current political climate reminds us that there is much work left to do. But the United States was formed on values of freedom and liberty. It is one of the most diverse countries I know. It has federal, state, and local governments. Civil society plays a big role in our daily lives. There are many opportunities to contribute and make a difference. I want to believe that here, atrocities like those that happened elsewhere cannot happen.***
Here, I am a minority. You wouldn’t immediately know it from my accent or how I look, so I am one of the lucky ones. But I am not oblivious to the hateful speech around me. Yet even with its imperfections, I take America to be one of the most successful social experiments of the modern era. Things are difficult all over, but that’s not a reason to give up. I choose to fight to make my adopted country better, and in the process to make my own life better. I started with small gestures: a sign on my office door ensuring all that they are welcome here; chats with students to reaffirm the same and to make myself available as a source of information and support; donations to organizations such as PP and the ACLU; local demonstrations. I am hoping to find a local organization to volunteer with.
I hope that others will accept me and join me. I refuse to believe that this is something the US cannot recover from, even if it does get far worse before it gets better. It’s up to all of us not to give up. This is a golden opportunity to restart the fight at the grassroots level, to rethink how we reach out to others and how things got to be this way. Mostly, I hold onto a broader perspective, and I retain my optimism. Hard work and faith have gotten me this far, and I am counting on them–and on you–not to disappoint me going forward.
* and how things really are here in the States. Things haven’t actually changed that much – but some of those who could previously be oblivious now can’t do that anymore. Noticing the racist, misogynist, anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, … sentiments can be horrifying if you never knew they existed, or you thought they were only held by a fringe minority. Those who despair the most appear to be not those who face these sentiments, but those privileged ones who weren’t aware of them before, and hence whose worlds were shaken up the most.
** as evidenced by recent election results in several of these countries.
*** and that I’ll fight with all my heart to stop any such attempts. And that I’ll know to get out in time if I lose the battle. Because I am optimistic, but not naive.