Expatriatism In The Time Of Trump: Why I Refuse To Stay In America
By Arizona Bell
Since I could remember, I wanted to name my (imaginary) daughter Berlin. I have no idea why. There was no real inspiration or story behind it. It just was. Whenever someone, usually a partner, asked me what I would want to name my future kiddos, I would utter with zero hesitation — Berlin.
When they asked why, I shrugged and murmured, “Dunno. I just like it.” While I am a dual citizen of America and Germany and have traveled to Deutschland more times than I can count, never once have I been anywhere close to Berlin. Don’t know a thing about the city other than its wall. My family lives in a tiny village in Bavaria, about a 4.5-hour train ride from Berlin, and we never made it that direction.
The first time I even considered that never going to Berlin was a mistake was when I asked my friend — who had quite literally travelled the world — which town or city, after seeing them all, would be her first choice to live in. Immediately, she nearly shouted, “Berlin! 100%!” The second time I realized it was a mistake was when I was just 20 in Munich, and bellied up to my very first gay bar. My friend and I were young and figuring ourselves out — at the time, we referred to ourselves as “bi” — and a foreign city seemed like just the place to test these waters. After chatting up the bartender for a while, she cocked her head, looked at us as if we were very lost puppies, and declared, “Listen, you two need to go to Berlin!”
Why?! What’s in Berlin?! I thought. And I have continued to think that since that day 12 years ago.
Yesterday I bought a one-way ticket to find out.
When Trump announced the known white supremacist Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, I decided to become an American expatriate, indefinitely.
My friends with families tell me I am the perfect candidate for expatriatism because I don’t have a family at all. I do not have a daughter and I am also no longer a daughter. It’s been a year and a half since my mother died and I still don’t know who I am without her other than, definitely, an orphan. My sociopathic, megalomaniac father vanished long ago, and I am grateful for having such a monster of a father because — especially when juxtaposed against my unconditionally loving, angelic mother — I really know how to spot the red flags. And that is precisely why the minute I heard Mr. Donald Trump became America’s President-elect, I knew I could not stay.
I promised myself long ago that I would never again live under the roof of a sociopathic, megalomaniac man. And when it comes to self-preserving against abuse, I’ve learned, finally, to stick to my word. Some people say leaving America is extreme, assuring that “it won’t be as bad as you think,” and my response to that is: What about electing an openly racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, short-tempered man isn’t extreme to you?
I am having a catastrophic response because this is a catastrophe.
My Great Opa was a prisoner in WWII because he refused to greet people at his bakery in his tiny Bavarian village, Schwarzach, with Heil Hitler. He chose, strategically, Gruß Gott — literally, “May God greet you” — instead. It was his small act of rebellion toward the Nazi party. I am sure in the beginning of Hitler’s rise to power that my ancestors did not think it — whatever “it” would become — would affect their small town, the same way I’ve been told Trump-ism won’t affect me in the small, spiritual town of Sedona where I live; yet after not too long, the Nazi party was holding rallies in Schwarzach just like everywhere else, pinning their flags to the outer walls of my family home which rests directly in the town square.
One day, someone whistle-blew on my Great Opa, and he went to prison — just like that. He was not a Jew, not a minority; he was only a German man with a conscience. He died shortly after his release from captivity, when the war ended.
My mother was born in 1955 and grew up in the same tiny village in a country festering with wounds of genocide and national embarrassment. I have a memory of going with her to East Germany for her first time, right after the Berlin Wall fell, and how incredible it was to her. She just cried and cried and I didn’t understand then why.
Today, with her dead and me trying my best to live fully, I understand.
Very early on in my mother’s life she had the dream to move to America. She had an uncle, Oskar, who lived in New York City, and whenever he visited Germany, he told her that one day she would come live with him there. She dreamed always about that promising future. Unfortunately, Oskar died when she was 11. But her dream did not. Her plan B was to hang out at American bars and find a husband. My mom succeeded in that mission, and this is the reason I am alive. This is the reason my patriotism is dual. This is the reason I have been geographically torn my entire life.
This is probably the reason I lived in Arizona and wanted a daughter named Berlin.
Mom moved to America for a better life than small-town Germany, which was still reeling from the war, could offer her. She moved to America because it’s where she felt she could be her true self. She moved to America to be free. And I have to wonder, what would she think today? As Trump is being praised by the American Nazi Party and the Ku Klux Klan for his cabinet choices, what would she think?
What would her dad, my Opa, who was forced to fight and almost died in Hitler’s nasty war despite not being a Nazi sympathizer in any way, shape, or form, think? What would my Great Opa, who went to prison for resisting bigotry, think? My entire bloodline, which has historically resisted intolerance . . . what the hell would they think?
I know they would all think exactly what I think: This. Is. Going. To. Be. Bad.
Mom had already begun — in the years before her passing — to think less highly of the country she once held on a pedestal. When I was 22, 10 years ago, she, my brother, my sister in law, and I started a tradition of sitting around the fireplace at Christmas time, drinking loads of wine, and declaring our intention to move back to the Motherland once and for all, together. We daydreamed about Germany the way my mother had daydreamed about America decades prior.
When she got sick, she told everyone that once she healed she would be moving to Germany for at least part of the year (she hated the cold . . . ) and she was serious. We were all very serious. She saw that since her departure, Germany had grown to be a place of extreme tolerance and impressive healing. And what did she see in America? A devolution, a dumbing down, an obsession with material goods and individual desires no matter the cost to others and the environment, and most disturbingly, a growing hatred. She knew then the warning signs and it’s only become worse since her passing.
Had she been alive today, I know she would be enraged at what has transpired, and she would be packing up our family and going home. Since her death, as an orphan, I have struggled hard to understand where my home is. I get it now, finally, that home is where ever you make it, and it’s time for me to make it.
I was wrong about one day having a daughter named Berlin. But I wasn’t that far off: I am today, proudly, patriotically, becoming a daughter of Berlin.
Though I’ve chosen to become a patriate of Germany, I will not divorce myself from America. I will not look away and say, “You’re on your own.” I love America and I do want to see it be great.
So I will do everything I can to promote love and call out bigotry from abroad. I will do everything I can to shine light on a growing darkness and encourage the people who have said to “relax, it won’t be as bad as you think,” or “I’m not a bigot” (even though I voted for a bigot), to closely reexamine their decisions. I will do everything I can to remind them how Hitler rose to power — not because the majority hated Jews, not because the majority were anything-phobic, but because the majority complacently turned a blind eye to Hitler and his small group of “alt-right” supporters’ hatred and phobias and thought, “It won’t be as bad as you think.”
I think it’s going to be bad.
I fear for women. I fear for people of color. I fear for my fellow gays and even more so for the trans community. I fear for Muslims — so, so much. And I fear most of all for every child who will spend their formative years under this regime, witnessing the hate that already has arisen and will only continue to rise higher, louder, faster.
From Berlin, I will do everything I can for America. But as the daughter of an immigrant, as a woman, as a gay person, as someone who values all people and worships love, as someone who is ancestrally sensitive to hate and bigotry and genocide, as someone who has the fortunate option to go, I cannot stay.
Gruß Gott, America.