"Being Mexican-American Post-Election" by Melanie Diaz
First Place for College Prose
Why weren’t we enough? It’s the day after the election and this is all I can think. I keep thinking back to my grandma, wondering what she would say if she were still alive. I keep wondering if she would think her journey to the United States was worth it after seeing Donald Trump being announced President-Elect. How would she feel seeing a man who labeled Mexican immigrants like herself as “drug dealers, murderers, and rapists” become president of this nation she fled to for safety? And how would she feel knowing that this man also condoned grabbing women by the pussy, when she herself fled from an abusive husband, seeking refuge in the United States, a place where she thought things like that weren’t tolerated.
Next, I think of my mother, a woman who truly believes in the American dream of meritocracy, a woman who believes the work she produces speaks louder than the color of her skin, a woman who believes anyone can make it in this nation if you just work hard enough. And I wonder how my mother would cope with Trump’s victory, which shattered her American Dream, which stated that her brown skin actually was her defining characteristic, not the 25 years of military service, not her 3 tours of duty, not her 20 years of teaching, but her skin color. Because this day marked the day that 60.5 million people said, “You can sacrifice all you want for this country, but at the end of the day you’re still just a Mexican and you are not wanted here.”
Finally, I think of my younger sister. I think of the little girl back home who has been trying to erase the color of her skin for her whole 15 years of existence. I try to think of ways I can explain away the nation’s reinforcement of her already present shame of being “not white enough.” I think about how much I’d worked to protect her my whole life, how I took a year off college during my mom’s last deployment, how I tried to shelter her from her own self-doubt, and how none of this is enough now. Because far too many people in this country just let her down, just told her that her safety, her rights, and her value weren’t enough to stop them from voting for a man that ran a campaign in opposition to her very right to existence.
And when I can’t think anymore, I cry. I let my whole body shake as I ask again, Why weren’t we enough? Why didn’t they worry about us, the people of color who have been sacrificing for this country generation after generation? And if what we’ve sacrificed isn’t yet enough, then when will it be? How many rivers must we cross, how many battles must we fight, and how much of ourselves must we give up before we become “white enough” to matter?
“How are you today?” asks my white, history professor.
“Pretty bad. I spent most of yesterday in the resource advising center crying with fellow students of color and watching my supervisors break down as well,” I reply.
“Really? Your advisors were breaking down? I don’t understand that. I just don’t get why this election is so emotionally charged. I mean, don’t people understand that this was a problem of economics?”
How could this professor really not understand why this election is so emotionally charged? Is she really telling me that she didn’t experience the same fear that I did throughout this past year? That she didn’t hear the same racial slurs, didn’t see the hate crimes, didn’t fear for herself and her loved ones, not even once? God, how I envy that privilege.
“Professor, everything about this is sexist. Everything about this is racist. Because even if Trump voters didn’t intend to oppress us – as women, as people of color – they’ve legitimized the very rhetoric of sexism and racism and that legitimization will have an impact. And we can’t just ignore that impact just because someone wanted an extra dollar because that extra dollar isn’t worth sacrificing someone else’s rights or someone else’s safety.”
“Well, we are going to have to understand their point of view if we want to work together.”
Fast forward to the end of my film class when another student claims that working together is our only option.
I say, “You’re asking me to understand and empathize with people who never understood or acknowledged my existence and what their decision would mean for that existence. You’re really asking too much of me right now. And work together? I wish I could, but I’m not sure I can ever heal the tear they’ve created in my spirit, in my faith. You see, on that night, they stole something from me, something you shouldn’t be able to steal from a person. They took my faith, they took my value – two things I never thought to be so fragile and so out of my control. They reminded me that as a woman I have no value here, that as a Mexican-American I have no value here. And with that, they stole the faith I had left for this nation. So, you tell me, how could we ever work together again?”
And as I sobbed for the hundredth time in 48 hours, my white, male professor came to my aid, repeating, “You matter, you are of value, you are important.” And I cried more as I realized that just as a white male had taken away my value, a white male was giving it back. Why couldn’t it come from me like it came from them? Why didn’t I have that same power to save myself? And I let the shame swallow me whole.
I look at my little sister’s picture, and it’s one of the ones with her smiling. It’s a photo of the day she and my mom dropped me off at college. She had her short hair then from donating the rest of it to cancer patients, but her smile is still exactly the same. During the election, she said she was ready to go to Canada. What was I suppose to tell her? What was I going to tell a little girl who’s been trying to escape the limitation of her brown skin all her life? How could I repair the damage Trump’s victory caused and the devaluation of her existence that came with it? How could I help her understand if I didn’t understand myself? And how could I help fix her spirit when mine was so badly torn as well?
But my whole life has been about this little girl, about her empowerment, about her protection, about loving her. And if I was tired before, I’m going to be exhausted now. But I’ll be damned if I give up fighting now. Because her face, her smile, her spirit is worth fighting for, and I won’t stop until every single person in this nation realizes she matters in every decision they make. And once they do, I’ll be sure to never let them forget it again. Because she matters. I matter. We matter.
And tonight I don’t cry.