Let me tell you my deepest fear.
But, before I do, I want to explain how I came to realize this fear. I recently finished reading Eagle and Crane by Suzanne Rindell. The fictional novel centers around a love triangle between three young people living in the Central Valley of California during the Depression and World War II. The tensions of complicated love were nothing compared to the racial tensions. One leg of this triangle, Harry, was a Nisei, or second-generation Japanese man. Throughout the story, Harry was treated as an outsider and lesser individual in his own country. His citizenship did not save him from being placed in a concentration camp. His face was enough to make people see him as unAmerican.
This book took place in a part of America that I know well. The small farm towns of California are places of my misspent youth. This is not your California of palm tree or of Silicon nerds. This is hard-scrabble, dusty California with mobile homes and water shortages. This California is eons away from the coastal riches, and the place where so many immigrants have worked for generations to keep our nation fed. This California could be any agricultural part of America, places where survival is not promised and potentially unlikely. When existence feels in question, people resort to their base tendencies, including picking themselves over others. In Eagle and Crane, I saw a story of people choosing to hate their fellow Americans.
The chance that my nation could turn against me, I realized, is my greatest fear.
Thanks to my parents, I was raised with like-minded liberal thinkers. Mine was a childhood where a difference was accepted. We looked different, and we all thought that difference was good. I have raised my children in a similarly broad-minded group of people. My children know that love knows no bounds, that Americans don’t look a single way, and that hate is a choice. But, sadly, the real world is not so lovely.
Hate is the greatest norm of our current cultural climate. Legislation is constantly being considered that would impinge on the lives of my family and friends. We can protest and scream, “Trans rights are human rights,” for example, but there are people out there actively attempting to affect our trans loved ones. American children are being placed into camps for being born to immigrants. I could continue, but the myriad transgressions against my loved ones are wrenching. Difference is under attack.
My greatest fear is that at some point some Americans will decide everything I hold dear (equality, love, peace) are unAmerican. All the offending people, despite their citizenship, will be rounded up to be locked away. This fear might seem unfounded to Americans who are white and educated. But, I remind you not so long-ago people born in our country were rounded up for looking like the enemy. People who helped feed our nation in the dusty farms of California were sent to concentration camps. Our fellow Americans were told they didn’t look American.
These days for some Americans the enemy are their fellow Americans because they have different thoughts. Looking like the enemy is a whole lot more complicated. I not only look different but also think that difference is good. I am prime material for hate.
Why am I sharing this fear? Well, I assure I am not alone. Turn to any marginalized friend. Ask them if they fear that their way of life is in danger. Ask them if they feel uncomfortable going to parts of their own nation. Ask them if they fear how their children will be treated because of their family.
What can you do to help us and ensure that our fears remain fictional and elusive? Vote! Vote in every election. Local, city, national. Every time someone lets you determine this nation’s future, do it. Do it for me. Do it for my friends. Do it for every person of color, for every queer person, for every poor person, for every woman. Do it for the future of our nation as a place that love wins over hate. Ensure that everyone who is different never needs to fear to be under attack in their own nation.
Put in place people who ensure that America is a place where everyone has the rights to truth, justice, and the American way.