Our Own America

Today, I could easily sit and write about how the last two days on Duke’s campus have been among the gloomiest, slowest, least efficient of days I’ve seen here so far, and make a dramatic metaphor about the rain that poured down on Wednesday morning when we woke up from one of the most apocalyptic nights of our lives. I could list sob stories, about how my Muslim arabic professor was so shaken up he could barely smile, let alone teach, about how girls in my dorm all offered me hugs when we ran into each other in the hallway, about how parties were cancelled and events postponed because no one, not the students nor the professors, seemed to be able to focus on anything other than the utter disappointment that was this election.

But there is enough mourning available in the media right now. “The election of Donald Trump to the Presidency is nothing less than a tragedy for the American republic, a tragedy for the Constitution, and a triumph for the forces, at home and abroad, of nativism, authoritarianism, misogyny, and racism,” wrote David Reminck for the New Yorker at around three in the morning.

“I cried because it’s not fair, and I’m so tired, and every woman I know is so tired. I cried because I don’t even know what it feels like to be taken seriously — not fully, not in that whole, unequivocal, confident way that’s native to handshakes between men. I cried because it does things to you to always come second,” wrote Lindy West for the New York Times late yesterday night.

If I were to start listing frustrated Facebook statuses that my friends have been posting over the last 48 hours, I’d be here for a while.

The night of the election, I myself was consumed by a strange sense of doom and terror that I’d never felt before. I’ve been disappointed by elections before, naturally, as has most every other Latin American. We are used to demagogues and dictators, to votes that don’t make sense or matter. That’s why a lot of us have fled here, to America, where things are supposed to be different, where the president usually isn’t, well, an asshole.

But I’d rather not get into the details of Trump or how he got elected for the nine hundredth time this week. In one of my classes yesterday, my professor withheld her lecture just to give us an hour and a half to ventilate, discuss and express our frustrations. It seems now that when others ask me “How are you?” they’re really asking “Are you still constantly on the brink of tears, or has something distracted you for long enough that things feel somewhat normal again?”

I don’t know if things will ever feel normal again, but clearly our normal was not as great as we thought it was. We thought our normal was a nation that would elect its first female president, a nation that would spit on a man that spit on so many of its constituents, but we had no idea the dimensions of the fragmentation in which we are living in as a society.

For me, this is the saddest fact to face: that America is so unbelievably divided into groups split by race, gender, religion, political party and economic status, that it seems there is no way to get us to reconcile and unite behind one set of principles or set of beliefs anymore.

The American identity used to be a graspable concept. At least, I think it was. Party polarization certainly is much worse than it was in the 90’s, alarmingly so. By literary standards, the American dream used to be something my high school english teachers could write a definition to on the board and have us copy down. Today, I’m not so sure that’s still the case, depending on who you ask.

According to my dad, the American dream is what allowed him to leave Venezuela with his wife and three children and know that even though he was leaving behind everything he loved, his children would have much better opportunities at success and a solid education than they would in what has now become one of the most corrupt, destroyed nations in Latin America.

For some of my peers, the American dream is what allows them to feel comfortable expressing themselves freely on their college campus, exploring their many identities, without fear of discrimination or ridicule. 

For others, it may mean being able to afford dinner every night. Or being able to protest without constantly worrying about the threat of police brutality. Or being able to leave the house wearing a hijab knowing that nothing will come of it.

Whatever the variation, we all believed that America would offer us whatever opportunity or wish we desired. We thought it was that great.

Now, though half of us apparently voted for this, there are swastikas being graffiti’d on walls and there is a sexist, scum of a man ready to be president, reminding us minorities that we will always have to fight to achieve greatness.

Well, fine. You wanted great, America?

Great are the students who listen to each other, who form supportive communities, who speak out against injustice every fucking time it happens, no matter how often it happens. Great are the immigrants, who keep coming in with their families, desperate to provide their children with the privileged life they deserve. Great is my Arabic professor, who showed up to his 8:30AM class the morning after the elections even though only four students showed up, and sat there trying to teach despite his frustration, anger and distress. Great is my mother, who called to tell me things were going to be okay, humanity’s been through worse and come out better. Great are us who refuse to hate, who are constantly defeated but who still refuse, absolutely refuse to turn to hatred. We cannot give up and we cannot give in. We, the minority, we are what makes America great.

We cannot let this election make us give up our nationality, our right to belong in this country. If Trump wants greatness, then by all means, he’ll get it. We’ll make America great the way we’ve been trying to do for a long time now. It’s just going to take us a little more time than we thought, but that’s okay.

If you go on Ryanair’s website right now, you’ll see a big, orange picture of Trump making a kissie face at you. “No one Trumps Ryanair fares!” it says. The Irish low-cost airline company sells cheap flights within Europe, and on Wednesday morning they’d sent me an email offering me a European getaway, again using Trump’s face in the ad.

I’m not going anywhere. Ironically, and for the first time in my sixteen years of residence here, I am proud to call myself an American. I may be a woman, I may be hispanic, and I may be an immigrant, but clearly, this country needs us.

Daniela Flamini