By Elga Castro Ramos
For Elena, with all my hopes and wishes that you grow up in a better country
Sixteen years ago I moved to New York, not as an economic migrant nor as a political exile, but as a student. The years went by and I stayed. I am from the 9/11 generation, I arrived in the city just a couple of months before the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers and, obviously, I was impacted by this event and experiencing it in first person. Without a doubt, the world is different since September 11, 2001. But for me, those first days of the aftermath, stirred mixed feelings at a personal level, beyond the political implications. I will never forget the conversations, stares, smells, colors, and sounds of those first times I went walking around. Of course, there was shock, but also a lot of comradeship, solidarity, that look of “it’s tough, but we are all together on this.” Evidently, even though the world and geopolitics have changed since then, New York soon went back to its original noise, the grayish fog subsided, people went back to their own affairs, to not greet each other, and to run instead of walking as a natural rhythm. The city no longer smelled as burned.
Today, in this November 9, which for those of us who speak Spanish is curiously 9/11, is a gray day and somber, but different. After a long night of waiting-and really hoping that at some point a crazy and incoherent number would pop up in the CNN statistics and graphs that would change everything- this morning the sun that president Obama had promised yesterday didn’t exactly come out, instead we had a gray sky with a light rain. Definitively there was no reason to wear sunglasses with such an overcast and yet I saw so many people wearing them, presumably like me, to cover their teary eyes.
Every morning I walk the same route from my house to my daughter’s school, at the same time, and I usually see, the same people. That is why “good morning,” some comment on the weather, and the always courteous “have a good day” are common and also part of our morning routine. This morning was very different and I will never forget it, so many distorted faces, without a smile, but not angry either; it was sadness and shock, that was it, and tears on some faces. No one said “good morning” on my way, I didn’t say it either, I would have not been able to say it without starting to cry. Many of the people I encountered just shook or bowed their heads. Passing by the African newspaper seller, who always has a smile for everyone, meant looking the other way, just to avoid, even for a second, the front page, I actually saw many dodging him.
And this was not the worst part of my morning. It was facing my daughter. She is four and a half years old and yesterday went to vote with me. I had explained to her what an election was, and who was being elected yesterday in the United States and Puerto Rico. And that was it. It’s fun to show her the sport teams and have her choose according to the colors of the uniforms, and then she gets excited and yelps, but always in the mornings asks who won the night before. She was so happy when I told her last week that her Cubs (who she had rooted for because she has a stuffed animal cub) had won. She really enjoyed the victory parade in Chicago. But I think it is unfair to tell her who to favor in an election, she will decide for herself; but we have taught her important values that were at stake in this election and I don’t want her to be in a dilemma. So, going back to that morning, it took me a long time to open her bedroom door, the time it takes to dry out the tears and wash my face to make it look like I wasn’t crying, because she knows, and she is at that stage of questioning everything. When I finally opened the door and I said “good morning,” I was only wishing that she wouldn’t ask who won, because inevitably I would start crying again and it would not have been fair to her. Luckily, she jumped out of bed and started playing and getting ready for school. However, today she asked me “who won?” and I answered “the man” and I told her I was sad, and she told me “Donald Trump won, a friend told me at school”.
There are many aspects that are fucked up about Trump’s election. To enumerate them would be useless at this moment, but the thought of raising a daughter, a Latina, in this environment is terrifying. I dream of many things for her, for example that as a woman she can aspire to anything, that as a Latina she could feel that she has the same rights as her Anglo peers, that as a woman she can decide what to do with her body, that she is able to love whoever she wants, that she grows up aware of the planet in which we live and protects and respects it, that she knows that in the North and in the South there are neighbors that deserve respect, and that she knows that, the same way the Earth is part of the solar system (which luckily she learned when she was quite very small), that the United States is one part of the world, that there are other countries and that it is not the center of the Universe, that she knows that there are people of many religions, races, sexual orientations, and that there is space for everyone. All of these I see threatened today with Donald Trump’s election and this inability and uncertainty anguishes me.
Today, in many of the faces I encountered, I felt the threats that were in jeopardy in yesterday’s election. I couldn’t meet my eyes with the many Mexicans I saw in the street, all the gays and lesbians I know, the other immigrants, some legal, some illegal, the Jews, African American, Muslims. All the people I saw in this morning route, reminded me of all the dangers they face. Always aware and realistic that, even if he didn’t win, there would have still been other threats, since the same economic and military interests would have still held power.
I admit that last night, in the midst of desperation, I also thought about migrating to Canada, an idea I have had before, as I was attracted by their quality of life, a free educational and health system and more recently by their welcoming policy to Syrian refugees. But, by a coincidence, what would have been a disastrous day for me from beginning to the end (election results in Puerto Rico were also a disaster), turned out to have a positive side. Yesterday I took a seminar about the Spanish Civil War, focusing on the participation of the American brigade called the Lincoln Brigade, as part of the International Brigades. Learning about what approximately 3,000 Americans did in the 1930s, the major expression of internationalism and solidarity which is to offer their life in order to fight fascism in Spain, in a day as the one that ended up being yesterday, was a great lesson. It also meant a great lesson of what “not give up” means, the famous “you shall not pass” (in Spanish, no pasarán) in Madrid, facing fascists advance. Last night, totally defeated, I thought about them, of the people in Spain that resisted an unjust Civil War and then 40 years of dictatorship, and I thought about the Americans who then decided that they had to fight, against Franco in Spain, but also against the system here and they did. With that in mind, I went to bed.
Today, in this gray day, and still with sadness and astonishment, for my daughter, for the thousands of girls and boys that deserve it, for the country I want to live in, for the immigrants, gays and lesbians, Muslims, African Americans, women and so many other marginalized and insulted by the winning side, for all of them, we need to pull out strength, organize and think what needs to be done to stop them from “advancing,” NO PASARÁN!
* Written 9/11 (November 9, 2016) in Washington Heights, New York, the day after the presidential elections. While writing this article, protests to the election of Donald Trump have began in many cities throughout the United States and also, many manifestations of racism and xenophobia by his followers and supporters.