Children dying in the care of United States government officials. Donald Trump’s racism, misogyny and hate and hate and hate. It’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced or seen before. What to do? How to act? How to be hopeful?
Time to talk to my mom.
My mother, a Chinese immigrant, arrived at age 16 on America’s doorstep which, for her, happened to be the state of Montana. She was assimilated, told to be a devout Christian. She cleaned rooms and was told to pray to a god whose followers had round eyes. She was still learning the language. She was alone.
There was no going back.
She was the youngest of her family, the thirteenth child who was given the golden ticket. The rest of her siblings remained in the motherland. Her charge was simple: climb on the backs of your family and make a life for yourself in a foreign country.
And don’t complain.
She couldn’t complain. Her family had survived World War II, the chaos, the death, the invasion. At the age of four, she would trek down to the caves outside the city of Guangzhou, follow the trail of people, her neighbors and friends and family. They would wait for the Japanese bombings to end. A few days later, she would head back to the city in the hopes that home still existed. One day, she walked back up the street to her house, but it was different. Her house was there but… Her neighbor’s was gone, flattened under the thumb of war, like an insignificant bug. People had died. But she didn’t. So she went to her house and helped to sweep up the glass and debris.
*** *** ***
The day of September 11, 2001, I was beside myself. I was holding my son, a 6-month-old infant, in my arms. I had never seen this before. The world I had known had turned to dust, just like the Twin Towers. I called my mother. Like all other rational human beings, she was devastated. Also, resolved.
“David-ah,” my mother said, calling on the intimate phrasing that Chinese mothers call their children. “We must have hope. We must keep going.”
Who was I to disagree?
My mother, after her arrival in America, eschewed Montana and gods that hated her. She learned English, moved to Kansas for her studies. She embraced science, mastered anatomy and made something of her life. She married a man she loved and suffered bigoted attacks from my father’s mother, beliefs that caused them to essentially elope (they married in, of all places, Germany). She would walk the streets of America — Kansas, DC, Boston — does it matter where? — and was called chink, gook and told to go back to where she came from. She was treated as less — not only by strangers, but by those who purportedly were her family.
And she remained herself: fierce, kind and loving.
She contributed to all those communities that gave her sideward glances and wondered if she was American. She fought oppression at the ballot box, voting again and again and again, oftentimes driving those without transportation to the polls. Oh, and when my bigoted grandmother needed surgery, my mother was there to care for her.
Today is fucking horrible. The hate and fear and ignorance are ubiquitous. I almost want to turn it off, shut down, hide.
But I can’t. We can’t. Just ask my mom.
So I’m going to talk to my children about America and hate and xenophobia. I’m going to remind my mixed-race boys that they can be Americans in the truest sense. And I’m going to fight for those who have no voice through voting and other means.
And I’m going to call my mom.
David Weinshilboum believes that one can love and critique a country at the same time, and he’s going to use all his privilege to talk about shit like this. He can be reached at email@example.com.