I wrote this for someone specific, but maybe you need it too.
I was thinking about a lot of people when I voted yesterday. I have a lot of friends who aren’t Americans or aren’t yet. People who, jokingly, implored me to not fuck it up. It was preaching to the choir, of course. They knew who I was voting for, I knew who they wanted me to vote for.
We have and had a lot of friends who know us but also voted against us. Perhaps because they saw you as “safe”. Some of them didn’t vote at all.
In a very real sense we must recognize that you and I make up an incredibly radical faction in how we vote. Not by merit of leaning liberal on social issues, or having an ever-evolving position on fiscal issues, but on being such devout opponents of anything that stands in the way of improving the lives of immigrants in this country. It is still common vernacular to use “illegal” as a term for a human being, as opposed to “undocumented”, as if a person by nature of being themselves could be wrong, and against law.
I am incredibly radical in the way that I vote. I vote with a very real urgency that the way in which I vote can affect the safety of my family, that safety’s conduit being immigration law in this country. The homeland drove you out. The homeland, and global militaristic aims and America economic interests and war but mostly, your father getting kidnapped and realizing that he couldn’t safely raise a family in that country anymore. Not when gangs were destroying his business and almost getting killed by kidnappers and vagrants pulling knives on his children walking to school and a daughter and a son getting raped. I think often about what your parents gave up when they came here; they went from being highly educated and owning a business to working the kinds of blue-collar jobs that many look down upon with the knowledge that it would still be better. It’s a horror story, yes, but a horror story that warped into living in a country where your family, as illegals, were hated and dehumanized and was still an improvement over their pasts. But you’re not otherly to me. You are family, my brothers, my sisters, cuñados, and it makes the horror stories that much more awful. Those were things that happened not to someone I could pity on a screen but to the people I celebrated Christmas with.
Knowing that we have people in our lives, who know us, who would claim kinship and love for us, voted with these facts that occupy such a huge percentage of our voting decisions is upsetting but perhaps not unexpected. To them and many others in this country what has happened to you and your family didn’t happen to them, and thus can be written off as something to forget about, or an anomaly, or deserved in some way.
I wish I could tell you that I could protect you from people who think like this. But I cannot. They’re our family, and our friends. To write off everyone who does not think like us is to doom ourselves to never moving forward. I want to see the progress on the issues I consider important, and that can only happen by addressing the fears of those who would wish to block that progress. Sometimes these fears will be legitimate, and sometimes they will be unfounded, and sometimes their origin will be founded in some of the ugliest parts of being human. But we cannot just ignore their presence in our lives. We, as humans, are all works in progress. Interactions with so many will leave us confused, and unhappy, and upset. Remember that what you have gone through is radical, and that lashing out with the belief that we understand pain truly, that we understand suffering somehow “better” is a one-way road to never finding common ground with the people whose empathy we’d need to move forward. I don’t believe God meant for love thy neighbor to be easy. But to dehumanize our opponents is to lose the very humanity we think we’re fighting for.
As we move to the end of November, with its time of thanksgiving but also family quarrels, and church run-ins, and charity drives, know this: we should not be unthankful. Our best friend voted against her natural grain. I don’t know if it was for us. But I find some hope in knowing that it might have been, and that even if it was not representatively so, it was concretely so. A tiny dot in a state of a different color.
So many bad things can happen in a lifetime. And so many good. Mourning makes the good times roll. I think that less will be handed to us; that we have more work ahead of us to ensure that this is not a bad thing for us, and for the people we love who stand to lose the most from it. We can do it. Fighting for change is exhausting. We have the energy to persist and succeed. Carry that fact close at heart.
Know that I love you, and I will continue to vote with our family, and the broader, grander, metaphorical family who I keep in mind as I vote. I’ll continue to be radical in my views. I’ll continue to express my reasoning calmly, without judgment of the people I confer them to, in the belief that people might listen, and might change their actions based on the stories we have to tell. I’ll be voting with love, and as those wishing to affect change, we must acknowledge that others voting contrary to us might also be voting with love. You and I are the abstracts for most, while for us we are the concrete. Defining the abstract into the concrete is our duty, our burden, and our penance for being who we are. I don’t know why that is. Giving ourselves room to not endlessly turn on the why gives us the ability to move on. We deserve to find our pockets of happiness.
Know that I love you, and that I’ll always listen to the stories you tell. I’ll listen to the new ones, just like I’ll listen to the old ones. I don’t care if they’re repeats; when you need to get something off your chest, I am here.
Know that I love you, which means that even in a country that seems to be ambivalent or angry about your presence here that someone can go from being neutral to being on your side, fighting for a cause not their own. Your cause became mine through you. You have already affected massive change, even if it feels small. It is not small to me.