America has never been great (but I love it)

It hurts! It feels way worst than I could ever imagined! I came to the USA to study my PhD in Biology five and a half years ago. I grew up in Mexico City, and I had learned to hate “America”.  Growing up, the US represented the backwards country that did not ratify the Kyoto Protocol, the imperial power supporting dictators across Latin America while hypocritically fights wars (always overseas) to defend “democracy” and “freedom”.  Of course, I also knew that the world is full of contradictions and this was also the country of the civil rights movement, of incredible pushes for sexual diversity and counterculture; a country highly critical of itself. And for my desicion to study a PhD here, a country with incredible research and fairly open PhD programs. My feelings about the US have changed dramatically: It is still an imperial power, it is a country with deep wounds caused by the continuous opression of black people and Native Americans,  it is a country full of prejudice and a lack of knowledge about the world arround it, it is still the center of consumerism, the country with the largest prison system in the world. But I do not hate this country anymore… I have even learned to love it.

I have met here the most amazing resistances, complex movements that understand that the liberation of all opressed groups is connected. Just take for example the resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline–Native Americans from tribes across the country (and some indigenous groups from other countries in the continent) travelling to South Dakota to protect the water from oil pollution and capitalist interests. The resistance has endured the harsh winter of the region, police repression and the lack of media attention. Many allies have been supporting these efforts, and similar resistances are happening throughout the country.  This is a highly diverse country, and conversations aknowledging the importance of difference are nuanced and sophisticated. Universities have incredible ethnic and women’s studies programs that were born of resistance movements and are still bastions of diversity and multiculturalism. This is a country with a highly efficient postal system that has a legal obligation to deliver to the whole country. It has some of the most beautiful protected areas–a huge system of national and state parks* and some of the radio productions in this country are riveting and uncensored–payed by the people, for the people. America has never been great (definitely not for everyone living here) but Trump threatens everything that it is worthy about this country.

I do understand the anxiety of feelling like your kids will not have what you had, the uncertainty of change, the large number of jobs lost in manifacturing. I am almost certain that Trump will bring some of those jobs back and create jobs in the fossil fuel industry. But these jobs, as well as the resources they depend upon, won’t last. The big oil companies and the mining giants will not have anything to worry about. Like Trump and his friends do all the time, they will make a profit while they can and then sell the companies. They will lay-off people (They do not care about the workers! No matter what he says!) and at that point there will not be a social security network: no foodstamps, no health care, no unemployment protections and only expensive education and disastrous public schools–that is how he was able to give these companies those huge tax-breaks.

Part of the problem is that those of us with some class privilege (and we are disproportionaly white) have not realized that yes, our kids maybe should not have all of what we had; the world cannot sustain everyone living like the US midle class of the 50s and 60s. If we want kids in this world to have any chance, and if we want what is just, then first we need to cut on the wealthiest, but that will not be enough. What is fair is for everyone to have a living wage, a home, access to good food and health and good education. It is true that the moving of manufacturing jobs has hit some communities more than others, that the heroine crisis is killing many people in certain areas more than others. But it is also true that white people ran away to the suburbs when the drug problem was mainly a problem in black communities. It is also true that while the last decades have been full of uncertainty for the (majority white) midle class, black and Native folks have been living in uncertainty and lack of access since the begining of this country.

Race matters, the color of your skin, your gender, your sexuality, if you have disabilities; all of these things limit access to what should be rights. It was not that long ago (actually when white families were seeing the “American dream” in the suburbs) that housing developers where scaring white americans in the cities about race, buying their houses for cheap and then selling back to black americans for a much higher price. It was not that long ago, when black people could not have houses in the suburbs at all, and discrimination in jobs is still a thing. It is also true that the liberal discourse often forgets class as an important category of analysis and that upward mobility for low and lower middle class is stagnated even in white communities, that the minimal wage has not kept up with the cost of living and that economic inequality keeps growing. However, placing the blame on immigrants (brown immigrants) is deviating the attention from the real culprit and fucking up the lives of people in the meantime. The problem is  unregulated capitalism, the problem is the big companies that do not care about workers and replace them as soon as they can. Companies that seek to exploit workers in places with even fewer labor rights (including the US prisons, and immigrants without legal protections). The enemy is the same!

White people in this country are all immigrants (or were at some point). Some had always an easy entry. Instead, jews, southern and eastern europeans have had it harder at some point. However, thinking that people come here illegaly to the US just to “cut in line” is completely missleading and untrue. There seems to be in the american imaginary the idea that if you did not go through the legal avenues to come here it must be because you have some horrible criminal past to hide… but it is impossible to come here legally in search of opportunities (unless the oportunities have already been offered to you, and your US company, spouse, university, etc… are willing to sponsor you). There is no visa to come search for a better life and the american dream. Immigration also discriminates by education level and income (and all sorts of other implicit and explicit biases-including the color of your skin). Even for a white mexican studying a PhD like me, it can be hard (and I have it easy!!!!). Two years ago, I had to go to Mexico to renew my visa, I had to take some time out of work, pay a ticket to Mexico and then stay even longer because my paperwork got delayed and into a “special investigation” (I have no felonies and had always payed my taxes). I had to pay for the change of ticket, missed more days out of work and was advised to not ask questions throughout the process because that could cause further problems. In the meantime, my partner, my house, my work, my degree were all waiting for me in the US, facing the uncertainty that I might not be able to come back. The problem eventually got solved and I came back to finish my PhD. But many times before, and many times after, I have been detained for hours in the airport because someone with a name close to mine: María Gómez (one of the most common names in the latinamerican world) has committed a crime. It does not seem to matter that they have my pictures and fingerprints taken everytime, nor that my name is actually María Rebolleda Gómez (I cannot even imagine what it most be like to have an Arabic or Arabic-sounding name!).

As I read news of immigration restrictions, bans on refugees, I am waiting at home to get my work permit to start getting payed as a postdoc at the University of Pittsburgh. In the meantime I have been working on my research anyway (as if research jobs were going to understand that the hole in my CV is because I was waiting for my work permit)…

Of all of the crazy things these week, the refugee crisis ban has been one of the most painful. Restrictions on immigration feel personal. I was raised by an amazing community of refugees: my grandparents left Spain during the civil war as kids, they found refuge in Mexico and for that they deeply loved the country. Friends of the family ran away from persecution during the Chilean and Argentinian dictatorships: These are professors in high schools and public universities, doctors, artists and journalists. They have deeply contributed to Mexico’s city life and society and keep giving their hearts and work to the country that opened its doors for them. In Minneapolis, I lived in a neighborhood with a majority of Somali refugees. Kind neighbors, and a lovely community to be part of. The ban on refugees (on holocaust remembrance day!!!!!) is harmful for the the people that thought they had a home, and the country as a whole.

 


* It is important to recognize that these amazing public goods have their origin in the colonial expansion of the US to the west and the displacement of Native Americans. Moreover as public services, the national parks were an important part of segregation.