I spent Election Night at a Republican Watch Party

republican party party.jpeg

Last night I watched the election results with the Republican Party of Wisconsin.

Devin and I ended up there almost by chance. It was one of the few public parties within walking distance of our house, and I was curious about what it would be like, since so much of the news has focused on the fight about Trump within the Republican Party.

Soon after we arrived, Fox News declared that Trump had won Wisconsin––the first time a Republican presidential candidate has won the state since 1984. The people in the ballroom chanted, “TRUMP! TRUMP! TRUMP!” I started to panic. Minutes later I lost sight of Devin, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

But then I met a very polite older woman from Dodgeville, whose life revolves around praying and hospice care because after taking care of her mother and husband as they died, she realized she had a calling. Talking to her felt so normal that I almost forgot where I was. She gave Devin and me advice about helping people we love if they ever develop dementia and talked about joining the Republican Party after visiting the Capitol to pray with the priest from her church during the historic Wisconsin protests. It was hard for me to imagine this kindly gray-haired woman voting for Trump, but watching the election results, she seemed genuinely happy.

“Have you ever seen A League of Their Own?,” she asked.

We shook our heads.

“Oh, when you go home you have to look up the scene where Tom Hanks says, ‘We’re gonna win! We’re gonna win!’ I had it playing in my mind all last week, and I didn’t know if it was about Trump or the Cubs,” she puts her hand over her heart, “Who would have thought it would be both!”

It didn’t seem ironic to her that the movie she referenced to celebrate Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton was about the triumph of a women’s team.

She gave us her card in case we ever want to talk about caregiving. On the front it has a dove holding an olive branch, the Christian symbol of peace.

The party was in a hotel ballroom, and at midnight they kicked us out. At the beginning of the night, there were approximately 70 people, and about 25 of us ended up watching the elections results in the hotel bar surrounded by hotel guests. The few I talked to explained that they were in town for various professional conferences.

A man who looked very young sat down next to me and asked where all these people had come from. I explained that we’d come from a election watch party upstairs. “For Trump?,” he asked, gesturing to one of the few apparent men of color wearing a “TRUMP” button on his suit jacket. I nodded.

He explained that he had been at a party in the bar on the 12th floor, where everyone was busy placing bets.

I asked him who he’d bet on, and he told me he doesn’t bet, and if he had, it wouldn’t have been for Trump.

“I mean, I voted for him, but I really didn’t think he’d win.”

He explained that he was in town for an electrical engineering training and had not figured out how to cast his ballot before coming to Madison.

“I woke up at 4:45 and drove back to Milwaukee to vote. A lot of people said, ‘Why are you even voting? Hillary’s definitely going to win,’ and I thought that, too, even though I did think there were a lot of people like me. I think there’s some truth to what she was saying––I don’t remember her name,” he looks toward the screen.

“Megyn Keylly?”

“Yeah, what she was saying about the ‘shy Trump voters.’ I think I’m kind of like that. Everyone around me said Trump would never win. Nobody was going to vote for Trump. And I was like, ‘I don’t know…there are a lot of reasonably––reasonable––people who are voting for Trump but not saying it publicly.’ That’s how I was.”

He told me that this was his first election, even though he could have voted in the last presidential election. “I had just finished high school. I didn’t really know anything. I don’t know… to me it’s a privilege––people say it’s a duty, and everyone has to vote, but I think it’s a privilege. If you’re uninformed, you shouldn’t vote.”

In the background a man dressed in sequined Uncle Sam suit yelled, “Let’s change the channel to MSNBC––don’t you wanna see Rachel Maddow cry?”

Most of the gathered Republicans shook their heads. Some gestured, “Oh, be quiet.”

“I can’t wait to see Hillary convulsing when she gives her concession speech!,” yelled the sparkly Uncle Sam.

A few people laughed. One White woman said, “My friend just texted me, ‘I’ve never wanted to see Hillary speak until tonight!’”   

The young man I was talking to furrowed his brow, “People like that give us a bad name.”

At 1:30 a.m. the bar abruptly turned off the television to announce that it was closed.

Again, Uncle Sam tried to get everyone’s attention. This time he tried to start a “Lock her up! Lock her up!” chant. About 10 people joined in, but it didn’t last more than a few seconds. My impression was that they were more excited to see Trump win than to see Clinton lose. The group clapped for a second before leaving the hotel.

On the sidewalk we ran into the older woman from Dodgeville again. Her friend, another older White woman, said, “It’s a great night.”

The woman from Dodgeville nodded solemnly, “It’s a great night.”

Devin and I said good night and started our walk home.

The people I met were not the caricatures of bigotry and misogyny I feared I would meet. But they still voted for someone who is.

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I spent Election Night at a Republican Watch Party

Las Guayabas

goya_blancs

19 July 2016

Sometimes my identity feels like a party trick.

“Oh, you’re from Mek-see-koe!,” a wide-eyed voice exclaims.

I nod eagerly.

And I feel like a poodle on its hind legs.

But sometimes, my identity, which is so often unseen for reasons beyond my control, feels like a superpower.

The power to subvert expectations.

It happened yesterday at a Patel Brothers grocery store in Schaumburg, Illinois where I was helping my friend Ariel fulfill mango orders for the Indian diaspora of Central Wisconsin. (Ariel’s partner Shashank is from India, so they are very connected with Indian families that live near them, and when one of them is near an Indian grocery store, they bring mangos back for the group. I want this system but for Mexican snacks, please and thank you.)

There I am, inspecting boxes of mangos and realizing there aren’t nearly enough when I overhear two employees speaking Spanish. I turn and ask if there are any mangos in the back, and one of them, who seems to be the Chief Mango Stocker––clearly an essential job in a store that specializes in produce from the subcontinent––seems happily surprised to hear me speak Spanish.

“Where are you from?,” he asks.

I tell him I’m from Chihuahua and his look of surprise transforms into a grin that fills his whole face.

He leaves and returns, hidden behind cases and cases of mangos on wheels. And as he gradually reappears, transferring the cartons of mangos from the rolling contraption to our two waiting carts, he starts telling me his story.

“See those guavas?,” he points to a display, “I’m from Aguascalientes. My family grows guavas.”

On his phone, he shows me pictures from his family’s orchard. A close-up of guavas on the tree. The house he built with money he earned stocking the guavas he used to grow. Guavas he left behind because he couldn’t make enough money to live. A house he hardly ever gets to visit.

“I had a son,” he continues.  “He was two. He fell in the pool. I couldn’t even go to the funeral…”

There is a pause, and I think we are both asking ourselves the same questions.

What if he’d never had to leave Aguascalientes? What if the border were just a line on a map that everyone could cross? What if he could have brought his baby here? What if he could have saved his son?

He attempts a look of resignation. “Así es la vida. Difícil…”

I nod.

What I really want to do is yell, “No! Your life shouldn’t be this hard! Nobody’s life should be this hard!”

By then, our carts are full of mangos; customers approach him to ask for help; Ariel and I say goodbye.

Of course, I don’t know that he shared all of this with me because I’m from Mexico. Maybe he is always this vulnerable with strangers. Maybe he tells everyone his story. Maybe this is how he grieves.

But I have this experience often. I say I’m from Mexico or I talk back in Spanish, and I see the other person loosen. It is the shift from “You are different” to “We’re the same,” from distant to close, from gringa to paisana. It is the collapse of a small border.

Driving away from the grocery store, I think about a talk I saw Mia Mingus give in which she talked about the importance of articulating not only what we’re fighting against, but what we’re fighting for and making real plans. She wrote about it on her blog:

“[W]e are good at resisting. We are good at fighting for the world we don’t want. We are good at analysis and analyzing things up and down (and sometimes into oblivion). We are skilled at naming what we don’t want. I think we are less skilled at naming what we do want; our visions for liberation. And not just vague things like, ‘ending white supremacy and heterosexism,’ but how are all the children going to get fed? Who will clean the toilets? Who will take out the trash? Who will cook the food?”

OK, I think, what do I want?

I imagine having to articulate my plans in front of Congress, but all I can picture is me, standing at a podium, looking at the legislators and sharing my new friend’s story. I conclude with my call to action: “If his family grows guavas in Aguascalientes, don’t you think it’s wrong that the only way he can make a living is by stocking guavas in Illinois? I mean, how does that even make sense? If they grow the actual guavas, and the guavas are what’s being sold, why can’t they make a profit?”

Good questions, Kristy, but no plan.

I try again.

I picture myself hitting the podium to emphasize my point that we must repeal NAFTA––which decimated Mexico’s agricultural sector––and punish U.S. companies that conduct unethical business abroad, like Wal-Mart, for example. I picture myself demanding that the U.S. government open the borders because human rights shouldn’t be determined by an accident of birth––especially in a time when photos, words, ideas, and corporations transcend borders every day.

I don’t actually think I’m qualified enough to speak in front of Congress about immigration reform. It’s just… I think the people who hear immigration stories most often are other immigrants. And most of the people who determine border laws are not immigrants. In my daily life, I hear lots of stories like this. When politicians walk into a grocery store, they just get guavas.

And so the borders stand.

If I could be anything, I would like to be a bridge.

 


 


 

Las Guayabas

Borders

Baby cousins with our grandparents, circa 1990.

Though I’ve lived my whole life on both sides of the U.S.–Mexico border, I didn’t understand what a border was until I was eleven years old. That summer three of my cousins were allowed to come back from Chihuahua to Texas with my mom and me. I have ten cousins, four of whom are very close in age to me. I call them my first-batch cousins because we were all born one after the other. Then the parents waited a while and then came the second batch. Some of my second-batch cousins don’t like these designations, but it just makes it easier for me to communicate which cousins I’m talking about—because I talk about my cousins all the time. I can’t help it, they’re just that great!

Anyway, the summer before sixth grade almost all my first-batch cousins were allowed to come visit me for two weeks. Caren couldn’t come because she didn’t have her visa renewed in time, and you need a visa to come to the United States from Mexico. I was so excited! I was going to get to show my cousins my life in Texas. We’d just moved into an apartment complex with two pools and a playground and we would ice skate and go to Six Flags and go to the mall! It was the first time any of my cousins visited me instead of the other way around. But Caren couldn’t come. She didn’t have this little piece of paper. There was no way to get it in time. She couldn’t come.

Continue reading “Borders”

Borders