My Country After Trump’s Election

Dec 6, 2016 | Issue 5 - October 2016, Issue 5 Commentary, United States

By María Gonzalez

The fear and despair that my closest friends felt after the 2016 presidential election didn’t hit me right away. I hugged my colleagues and friends tight throughout the day on November 9.

On November 10, I attended a candlelight vigil in support of DREAMers at the White House accompanied by strong women who had smiled all day at work to dissimulate the worry that their puffy, teary eyes gave away. On November 15, with a warm smile and a heavy heart, I embraced a beloved friend who had worked with the Hillary Clinton campaign. It wasn’t until November 18, when I walked past the security checkpoint at General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and hugged my mother and father, that I finally burst into tears.

The country that had welcomed my parents in 1975, the land they love and call home, now appeared to be a hostile place that embraced a man who, for votes and airtime, had called decent people like them criminals and rapists.

Like millions of Mexicans and Latinos who came to the United States in search of a better life, my mother and father worked hard to achieve their American dream: a house of their own, tranquil afternoons with their cats, and carnes asadas animated by cumbias and norteñas, and their three daughters’ antics. Through their struggles and successes in work and in life, they learned that this country is great because with hard work, one can find opportunities to succeed regardless of class, race and background. It is a nation of immigrants, after all. But the idea of having a person like Trump win the presidency discredited this valuable life lesson, one that they had passed to their daughters by example.

Photo credit: Geoff Livingston https://www.flickr.com/photos/geoliv/

Photo credit: Geoff Livingston

Along with my two sisters, I learned the intricacies of language and cultural translations at an early age, and became a bridge between the two worlds where my mother and father lived, a young attaché between their Mexico and my United States. I relished my “diplomatic” duties in efforts to help my parents. I made phone calls to banks and doctors’ offices, helped fill English-only documents and accompanied them to doctors’ appointments. I translated documents for them, took their menu orders at McDonald’s and Applebee’s and made sure my mother’s favorite Clint Eastwood movies had Spanish subtitles. We took family trips to Lake Michigan to see the fireworks on the 4th of July, and I translated everything I could during family outings to the zoo or to museums. They worked long, hard hours and gave up so much of their own lives for me and my sisters, that I wanted to mend the gap between their dual identities so that they could have the full experience of being an American. I didn’t want them to miss out on anything.

The 2016 presidential election was not the exception. My parents followed it closely. They watched Univision and Telemundo’s news casts every day, and my father, who has mastered the English language, kept an eye on C-SPAN. My parents’ twice a week phone calls included a litany of questions and concerns about Trump’s latest incendiary comments. My father called me after Trump’s Access Hollywood recording was leaked and angrily asked me why a man who treated women so terribly could run for president. My mother didn’t understand why Clinton’s qualifications were overshadowed by Trump’s bravado and why people were indifferent to his racist, misogynist views. They worried about his anti-immigrant stances and about the future of their healthcare access if he were to win.

When Election Day was over, I, their trusted attaché, had to explain to them why a qualified, accomplished woman, had lost a presidential election to an unqualified man who huffed and puffed and shouted that he didn’t like people like them. The United States had elected a man who launched his presidential campaign insulting Mexicans, promising to build a useless wall between the United States and Mexico, and calling for a mass deportation. His campaign rallies and interviews were full of divisive speeches and comments that threatened the well-being of Muslims, the LGBTQ community, African-Americans, Latinos, women and journalists. My parents looked to me for answers when the election was called for Trump, and for the first time since I began helping them understand the nuances of being American, I had none.

When I burst into tears at the Milwaukee airport, my mother hugged me tightly and said to me in her stern, maternal tone, “Todo está bien.” Everything is fine. I walked between my mother and father across the busy terminal with each arm wrapped around their shoulders. We drove to their favorite taquería in Milwaukee, the city where they’ve purchased their Mexican groceries since they arrived in this country 40 years ago. On our way, we drove past familiar sights I had seen for many years: the local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, a colorful mural that depicted a dove of peace embracing an array of Latin American flags and signed by an artist whose surname is Hernández, and people of different races walking on National Avenue and Cesar Chávez Drive.

There is hope, I thought. The lesson that my parents had learned about this great nation was all around us in Milwaukee, and in Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio, Phoenix, Denver and all over the country.  Our thriving communities, which have learned to unite in the face of adversity for decades, are living proof that our nation stands firmly on the grounds of inclusion, diversity and opportunity for all. One man with a divisive, hateful message cannot undo decades of civil rights struggles and victories. We remain a nation of immigrants and nothing will change that. It is now up to all of us—Latinos, whites, African-Americans, Asians, Muslims, LGBTQ, women, Americans—to not surrender to the fear, the despair and the tears, but to unite and reemerge like the strong, diverse and inclusive nation that we are. Todo está bien.

* María works for the Latino Victory Project, an organization dedicated to increasing Latino political power in the United States.


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