Dedicated to 1/27/17, A Day that Will Live in Infamy

For today, I met with 27 students from Somalia, Sudan, Iraq, and Iran to tell them that they probably shouldn’t leave the country or they might not be readmitted.

“Thank you, Ms., thank you for telling me.” Relief as transparent as grief in their eyes.

For today, first Trump said this about the Holocaust: “In the name of the perished, I pledge to do everything in my power throughout my Presidency, and my life, to ensure that the forces of evil never again defeat the powers of good. Together, we will make love and tolerance prevalent throughout the world.”

THEN he said this as he signed the executive order banning refugees from Muslim countries: “We don’t want them here.”

For today, I told my colleagues in our district-mandated common planning, after twenty-seven minutes of discussing Socratic seminars, student placements, and teaching methodology, “Please let your students know about the recommendation from many aids groups and human rights lawyers: students and their families should not leave the country.”

For today, the ONE DAY that a district minion came to “observe,” his title Data Culture Specialist, not a day older than twenty-five and only experience in a Teach for America charter school network, writes: “Strength: The team was considering how current events impact student lives in a meaningful way (Executive Actions). They are team most impacted by these events as they have the most ELA/Refugee students.

Next Step: Continue to push the conversation to be about instruction or student learning/outcomes.” (n.a. Source unknown)

For today, I want to push the conversation: “Do you think my INSTRUCTION is more IMPORTANT than my STUDENTS’ LIVES?

For today: Student learning outcomes? Do you think they will LEARN ANYTHING if they are deported?

For today: I share all of this at dinner in the too-crowded local pub. My husband, my daughters, ages twelve and ten.

For today: My ten-year-old replies, “Mama… he must have been a Republican.”

For today: One. Small. Win.
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Weighing In

Wednesdays have turned into a ritual for Riona and I, as the older two get a ride home from the carpool and she has joined in with her expertise at helping me go grocery shopping (if expertise means begging me for Cheez-its, Naked juice, and blueberries…).

On this Wednesday, five days into Trumpocracy, the weight of it all is heavier than ever before. The two stores, the lines of people at guest services while I wait to buy bus passes, the shuffling of semi-broken carts, the weaving in and out of crammed-too-full aisles filled with Valentine’s candy and magazines and gift cards and everything, it seems, except the food I need to feed my family.

The knowledge that I carry with me now, of stripped healthcare, border wall building, claims of voter fraud, Muslim refugee bans, women’s healthcare denials, mortgage fees reinstated… It makes even the mundane tasks of finding the right brand of almond milk, of selecting a new variety of potatoes, of giving in to the Cheez-it bid, seem heavy and dark and worrisome.

How long will this variety of foods be here? I begin to wonder. How long will this variety of people be here? My darker self asks, as I hear a series of languages and see every skin tone meander through this shared space, this shared ritual of finding food.

At the second store, after I’ve sent Riona off on her own to fulfill half the list while I buy the bus passes, we count our items in the small cart to see if we can shimmy into the “About 15 Items” line behind four other groups. We stand behind them like a crooked tail as carts shuffle past, and slowly move forward to the monotonous beep of the register. As we pile our goods atop the belt, I’m proud of her ability to stick to the list. “Good, you got just the almond milk I like,” I smile down at her, and she grins back, “Of course, Mama. I’m not Daddy.”

A tall blond woman rings us up in a slow, methodical fashion. Riona, who has just finished checking off the last item on the iPhone grocery list, proudly clicks the phone shut and begs to put my credit card into the chip reader. “How does it work, exactly?” she asks excitedly, wholly unaware that my usual no has slipped into a dull yes because my mind is on all my Muslim students from all those countries on his list who will likely never see their extended families again (and not on who’s putting my card in the chip reader).

“Awww,” the cashier coos, “I wish I could be a kid again… although, I had a terrible childhood.”

I look up at her, the pale blue eyes, the straight blond hair, and the hint of an accent. She knows she has my attention now, though of course a line of people still waits impatiently in this express lane, wanting to check out, to go home, to pop open a beer and drink this day away.

“Have you ever heard of the Bosnian genocide?” she asks, and my mind flashes back to my first year of teaching when I had a student whose letter of introduction to me was, when I asked about his childhood, “Only an American would ask about that. Because my childhood was shit. My childhood was war.”

“Yes… I have had students who were from Bosnia,” I reply to the cashier.

“Oh, where do you teach?” she asks excitedly.

“South High School.”

“My sister went there!”

I’m reminded again of how connected our humanity is. She hands me my receipt, I tell her what a great school it is, and I grab the hand of my ten-year-old, whose childhood still lights up by the sushi we always share (unbeknownst to her sisters) before we drive home. Whose childhood is road trips and living in Europe for a year and grandparents who are right down the road and two loving, living parents.

We make our way across the parking lot, and she rams the cart into the speed bump. The eggs tumble to the ground and she frantically looks up at me, ready for the annoyance that would normally be present on my lips.

But I am crying because I don’t care about the damn eggs. I care about the millions of refugees, just like that girl in the grocery store, who won’t be coming here. About the thousands who have come. And the thousands who have been left behind. About the impotence I feel, the numbness that creeps into the corners of my days, as I face this new regime.

“What is it, Mama?” she asks, taking my hand again. I tell her what the girl said about the Bosnian genocide. About the papers Trump is ready to sign. About my first-year-of-teaching student.

We open our crunchy California roll and I put all the wasabi on one piece. She smiles, holding up the bottle of water for me, wanting me to douse it out. “Not this time,” I say, “I want to feel all that fire in my mouth.”

I want to feel something. To feel like I can go to the grocery store without crying. To feel like we live in a place where everyone is welcome, everyone is loved, and everyone is free. Where everyone has the chance to have a happy childhood.

Halfway home, she asks, “Can I have the last piece?”

“Of course.”

She pops it into her mouth and squirms in her seat. “Don’t worry, Mama, I’ll throw the package away before the sisters find out.” She hops out of the car and dances across the lawn towards the outside trash can. “It’ll be OUR secret.”

As usual, she is as happy as a clam. She doesn’t carry the weight of the media, the weight of the presidential pen, the weight of a genocide, as she goes through her days.

She has the gift of a happy childhood. And for now, that is the only weight I want her carry.

“We’ll never tell,” I smile back, the spicy wasabi still sticking to my tastebuds. I can feel the fire in my mouth. And for this moment, at least, I am only thinking about how happy she is.

About how glad I am to have my girls, my home, my school that is a safe haven for all the refugees, for the grocery store filled with a microcosm of the world where a refugee now works, and all the food our family will need.

Because it is something. It is enough. Enough for today.

Locationally Challenged

Where is my place in this America? It is the question asked by millions, and so frequently no answer is ever offered. Our collective experiences often lead us to both hate and love this country. It’s a balance, a scale, ready to tip as easily towards hate as towards love.

I am a white woman. It is a blessing and a curse. It comes with white privilege and preferential treatment. It comes with the burden of white privilege and preferential treatment. Because yes, these are burdens. I participate in the historical women’s march and am demonized for the privilege the protesters are allowed by law enforcement since the organizers and protesters are primarily white. I am reminded that “white women voted for Trump” even though I am not one of those white women.

I am trapped between feeling like I want to do everything to stop the hatred that has taken over the world and feeling like no matter what I do, nothing will change. Trump will continue to sign executive order after executive order (ten so far in three business days) stripping every last one of us from our human rights. I have signed at least 100 petitions since election day. I have posted on social media. I have spoken to friends and family about my beliefs. I have supported my students as best as I can while “remaining neutral” (a requirement of the school district). I have called the Department of Justice, my senators, my congress men and women (only to be blocked, to receive a busy signal, or be directed to a full voicemail box).

Where is my place in this America? As a mother of three daughters, a wife of a white man, a teacher of refugee and immigrant students, a Democrat, an atheist, an idealist?

Because white women have betrayed me. Defriended me. Voted for Trump (58% of them??).

Because mothers don’t seem to care that we have a president who brags about grabbing women by their pussies.

Because white men (nothing like my husband)–63%–voted for a man who publicly mocked a disabled reporter.

Because Democrats voted for third party candidates instead of Clinton.

Because I spend my day surrounded by non-whites from every culture and religious belief you can imagine, and I don’t belong with any of them, other than as a figurehead to the white world that is Our America.

Where is my place in this America? I can’t seem to find it. I search in my students’ eyes, my daughters’ artwork, my husband’s anti-government views… And no matter where I look, I feel homeless. Hopeless.

I am searching for what we have lost and will continue to lose. Seeking the solace of activists and friends. Pouring myself into research and writing. Studying law and politics and fact-checking every last piece of media. Taking the time to understand how horribly impactful the violation of human rights can be, how that violation trickles from person to person until the entire society buckles under itself.

And all I can ask, all I keep asking as I am surrounded by doubt and alternative facts and fact-checkers and protests and postcards and last-ditch efforts, is where is my place in this America?

Where is yours?