One year ago, on November 9th 2016, I woke up to watch the news in a stupor. As the election wasn’t progressing in any way that made sense, I had gone to bed early the night before, after Pennsylvania, or Ohio, or Michigan, was called. There were so many that I don’t remember the details clearly.
Watching the next morning what the exact results were left me pretty much speechless for three days. If you know me, you know how impossible that sounds. But it happened. I couldn’t talk to friends and family, because I couldn’t understand why they weren’t as outraged, worried and sad as I was. And, to me, it didn’t feel like a time to be lukewarm to what was happening around us.
And, just to be clear, this was not so much a political statement, or a political reflection. I would have been fine with any of the other candidates to the Republican primaries. This was about people electing a bully for president. About suddenly realizing that a good portion of this country didn’t like difference, minorities, freedom, immigrants. That they didn’t like people like me.
All the human interactions I was able to handle during those three days were the ones with my students. They were scared, many with good reason, as many were minorities, LGBTQ, undocumented immigrants. They needed a safe space. College students are shaken more easily than one would suspect. They are often away from their families, living alone for the first time, and quite stressed by the pressure to succeed. That makes them vulnerable to any big change. And they seemed fully aware, way more so than many adults, of how big a change it would be from the world they had known for the previous eight years.
Luckily, in November a classroom was still that safe space where they could talk, cry and get a much needed hug. Where they could express their fear of an uncomfortable Thanksgiving with the parent who didn’t accept their sexual orientation and would be gloating over the turkey. Their fear of being discriminated against for belonging to a certain religion. Their fear of being deported from the only country they had known. Their fear of losing the freedom that had taken so many years to achieve.
To see the tears in the eyes of girls who were convinced that they had voted for the first female president was heartbreaking, but also heartwarming. And it showed me not only that I was not alone in my sadness, but also that there was a generation willing to fight. Willing to resist.
Still, my first instinct was to run for the hills. Quite literally. At first I thought that my eternal back up plan of opening a B&B in my little village in the Spanish mountains sounded more appealing than ever. After all, it seemed like I would have plenty of opportunity to have it full of Americans in need of a break. Then, being practical only in times of crisis, I realized that I needed solid Cochlear Implant coverage for my deaf kid. So I did some quick research and set my eyes in Norway.
While all this was happening in my head, I was so affected that I was physically sick. My body ached, to match my soul. And I still couldn’t make any sense of how this country had gone from electing Barack Obama to this divided mess that we were faced with. I was paralyzed. And I was not the only one.
As I run into more friends or acquaintances who felt like me, I started to feel a little better. And I realized that I didn’t want to leave. That I wanted to stay, and fight for the country I had been living in for 13 years, and where my kids had been born. For a country that had given me so many things.
And that I actually wanted to apply for citizenship right away. I had been sitting on my citizenship application for years, not feeling the urge to bother with all the paperwork. After all, I hold a European passport, which isn’t a guarantee of anything, but comes quite handy if you want to travel or live in any one of 28 countries. I also had a Green Card. A job. A house. Three American kids. All those things were anchoring me, making my status in the country settled. Or weren’t they anymore?
All of a sudden, I wanted full rights, in order to vote, in order to campaign, and in order to protest or write my mind out without the fear of having my words or my actions jeopardize my legal status. It may sound exaggerated, but in light of the eagerness that the government seems to have to dig in our social media, I felt it was necessary.
Once I gathered all the information and documentation that I needed, which took a good couple of months, the process was very smooth. At times it even felt like they wanted to speed up the process. I filed for citizenship in February 2017, mere days after the inauguration. The appointment to take my biometrics happened within days, and once that was approved, I just had to wait for my interview and exam.
When I opened the letter with the date of my naturalization ceremony, I laughed. It was going to be on the same morning of the eclipse. In so many levels, it seemed like such a good date to acquire a new citizenship, and to have my two worlds finally overlap. If I had any hesitations about what I was doing, that coincidence settled them.
One year after the election, I finally feel like I truly belong here. Even if I have an accent, and look different, and was born somewhere else. Even if I will always be a Spaniard also. And the elections that took place yesterday give me hope that this country, now my other country, may be able to heal its wounds and go back one day to be the melting pot that it used to be so proud to be.
Knowing that I can now be a tiny part of that change makes me realize the responsibility that freedom entails. Luckily, it will also make me feel brave enough to fight not politics, ideas or parties, but hate, fear and disrespect for others. Which, at the end of the day, is the real problem right now, the one that is preventing the United States of America to look like itself, like that welcoming and inclusive country of opportunities that became the dream and home of so many people over centuries, people who, in return, helped make it what it is right now. Until every single person in this country understands that diversity is not something to fight, but rather something to embrace and part of the essence of this country, there will be a lot of work to do. And now, certificate of naturalization in hand, I feel in a much better position to help with that.
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