March 12, 2017…. Day 52
Today was mostly spent riding in a car with an old white Republican woman who only watches Fox news. In between the two long car rides, we were attending her 90th birthday party with her family members in another city. Politics was strictly off the table as a topic of discussion. Everyone else at the party was a Democrat, but it was Grandma A’s birthday and besides, everyone’s a little afraid of her.*
It was interesting to see what a huge impression Trump has had on our daily lives. It showed up in how difficult it was to talk about a) what we’d been doing, b) how we’d been feeling, c) what we’d been reading about, and d) where we saw our lives going in the next few years. We tried resorting to gossiping about people we all knew in a certain small Alaskan town, but we discovered that our small-town-gossip inventory was at an all time low. Trump had split our associates into people we didn’t feel like communicating with anymore, and people we only talked about politics with.
Now, we actually did do fine in the end, making convivial conversation. There were kids around to amuse and distract us all. We also talked a lot about “the old days,” and that was all right. But Trump was still the elephant in the room, especially when we talked about anything in our current daily lives. One of the men present was a grade school teacher in an urban, majority-minority public school full of immigrant kids, some of whom are Muslim. One of the women worked for a recreational marijuana company (Grandma A. thinks it’s a “regular” bakery franchise). Then there’s me and the stock market, and the Vietnam vet who needs a lot of VA care.
On the drive home, Grandma A. talked about her childhood and I started getting de ja vu. I was flashing back to just 8 days ago, when I was at a party talking a whole lot of Trump with a thirty-something Mexican-American friend.
Grandma A. is one of 15 children. At the height of the Depression, they moved west from Illinois to Washington State, looking for jobs and opportunity. They were dirt poor. They all worked in the fields, for much of the year. Her father and brothers would travel to the Yakima Valley to pick apples and peaches. The women and girls stayed closer to home, picking strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and hops. She told me what it was physically like, doing all that picking as a kid. How it shaped her.
It was the same story, essentially, as my Mexican-American friend’s story from 60 years later! It wasn’t the same exact story of course, but it was eerily similar in both its visceral details and broader outline.
But Grandma A. became part of the tidy protestant church-going middle-class Republican backbone of America. She became an RN. She became a homeowner. She became “heartland.” She raised three kids. Everything was bootstraps and Jesus. She epitomizes everything considered good and wholesome about her American culture.
My Mexican-American friend is also proud of her heritage and is also proud of her professional accomplishments–but she doesn’t get to feel celebrated, accepted, and centered in the same way in this country. Not in the mainstream. She feels othered, pushed to the margins, threatened, made small. She’s angry. She’s sad. She’s worried about family members, friends, and neighbors.
And there you have it.
*She’s not actually my own grandma. My grandmothers have been dead for awhile. They were also frightening, but they were leftwing frightening.