So, the other day in a blog post I wrote about “cutting the cord” on social media (Facebook and Twitter particularly). I wrote that I although I value social media as a “big village green” or a place to connect with people from many walks of my life, I felt that in the current political climate, it was feeding my anger and frustration and affecting my ability to get on with life in a positive manner. I wrote about using the month of February to “detox” myself from Facebook and Twitter, in favor of engaging in old-fashioned personal communications like handwritten notes and letters and I invited readers to be my “pen-pal” of sorts.
The truth of that post is this: I wrote it about six weeks ago, when I was sick and tired of my own terror over the state of the new world order. I wrote it when I was angry and totally disheartened. I wrote it when I had maybe had one too many glasses of wine on a dark December day. I scheduled it to post at the end of January, and then completely forgot about it until I started getting comments about it in my email box on Friday.
Here’s some more truth. Since that day, my heartsickness and my terror have only increased. I have been incensed by the new administrations attacks on women’s rights, on freedom of the press, on arts and education. I am embarrassed by this new President’s ineptness in decorum, in communication, in telling the truth. I am frightened by his obvious lack of knowledge about history, constitutional law, or diplomacy.
With the most recent edict suddenly banning immigration from seven middle eastern countries, this administration has stepped into territory that is very personal to my life story. As I read about entire families of refugees being denied entrance into the US yesterday, people who had spent years preparing and being properly vetted and jumping through all the necessary hoops, I couldn’t help but think of my own grandfather, a refugee from the Armenian genocide in the early 20th century, who managed to escape that nation when he was only a teenager and build a new life here. I have no idea if he was “legal” or not - I don’t think he did either. Somehow or other he alone of his entire family arrived in Detroit, Michigan. He spoke no English, but was able to get work on the assembly line. Eventually, he married and raised six children, including three sons, one of them my father, who served in the armed forces in WWII.
Now I suspect almost every one of us has a story similar to that somewhere in their history. I’ve never forgotten my story, because I knew the man who lived it. He was kind, and gentle. He didn’t know his “real” birthday, but chose to celebrate it on July 4, Independence Day, because he said he was only alive because of America.
But even more close to home is the story of my daughter-in-law, who entered the US for the first time on January 30, 1999, on a K-1 Visa (or so called “fiancé visa). She and my son were married within three months of her arrival, per the terms of this visa, but for the next two years were subject to regular Department of Immigration interviews in which they had to provide continued proof in the form of pictures, affidavits from family members, legal documents like mortgage statements, insurance statements, utility bills, that they were still married. My husband and I accompanied them to Miami on occasions, in case we were need to testify to the validity of their union. Because she was from Thailand, a country considered a third world country on the US Immigration status listing at that time, she was subject to stricter immigration requirements than she might have been if she were from Canada or the UK or some other western European nation. On each of those immigration appointments, we were mindful that her ability to remain in this country was always in jeopardy. During that two years, she could not leave the US - well, she could leave but she wouldn’t be allowed back in. Thankfully, after the two year vetting period, she was granted permanent residency and is now a naturalized American citizen.
Yes, I’m a natural born American. I’m a white woman from a middle class background who has never had to worry about getting in or out of the country, never had to wonder whether I had a “right” to be here. But these two very personal stories gave me an idea what it might be like if I did. My daughter in law was not born in the United States. My grandson is Asian-American, which makes him biracial in legal demographic terminology. We have an administration who boldly declares “America First” and its clear that they mean White, Upper Class, Male, and Christian America. This administration plans to blockade Latin Americans, has already banned Muslim and Middle Eastern people - do I wonder and worry whether Asian Americans are next?
You betcha I do.
I will not stop advocating or activating to resist those policies of this administration that defy my belief in what this country is about or that threaten the social justice reforms we have made in the last century. That means I will keep calling my elected officials, I will keep signing petitions in case it might do some good, I will even step outside my comfort zone and participate in local political political groups.
“Sometimes you have to use your failures as stepping stones to success,” writes novelist Rohinton Minstry in his 1975 novel A Fine Balance. "There is a fine balance between hope and despair.” In the past couple of months I have fallen into despair about a lot of things, which does no one any good, least of all me or my family. Tipping the scales toward hope allows us to act from a place of positive energy - hope that we can make a difference with our actions, hope that we can heal the divisions that grow wider day by day. It’s not easy for me, my natural scale tends to weigh more heavily on the side of despair. But I have to try.
So back to that post I wrote the other day. One of the things that gives me hope is the personal connections I have with other people who are committed to making life better. They all do it in different ways - some by being politically active, others by reinforcing their faith-based beliefs with action, still others by inspiring us to live more artful lives. I believe we need every one of those people to make it through the days ahead, and that each contribution is necessary and valuable in its own way.
My social media feed is filled with connections of all those persuasions. I won’t be giving that up anytime soon. But as I wrote to my friend Deb earlier today, what I will attempt to do is temper my time on social media, temper my reading list, and most of all, temper my response. Moving forward, positive actions and reactions are my goals.
Just as I’m committed to working for needed change, I’m committed to seeking a finer balance between hope and despair for my life in general. I know most all of you are as well, and together I hope we can bolster each other, inspire each other, and give a positive energy to every aspect of our lives.