politics, psychology

Can A Country Ever Really Be “Ours”?

Sitting glued to CNN’s live updates of the vote counts going on in the final moments of the 2020 election, I’m on the edge of my seat wondering if Biden can really take Georgia and/or Pennsylvania. Watching the election unfold from across the ocean four years ago, I vividly remember thinking Hillary would win it all, so I went to bed without a second thought. Of course, the following morning I was in for a massive letdown and a bunch of confused text messages from my Spanish friends about what went wrong in America. And ever since that election, the broken record has continued sounding: “What’s going on with the USA? What do you think of Trump?” My students of all ages. My friends from Spain and other countries. Everyone shaking their head in disbelief and looking to me as the token American in the room to provide some kind of explanation. I brushed it off with jokes and eye rolls a lot of the time: “Ah don’t worry, he’s just a big orange Cheeto!”

This was one of my favorite memes… at the beginning

But truth be told, this presidency has been no joking matter. And this election week, the president is making dangerous and false statements about the legitimacy of the election as his lead has diminished. He’s lashing out and unable to come to terms with the reality of the possibility of losing. Calling the opposite side cheaters, saying the whole thing is rigged? He’s acting like a spoiled child whose team just lost their sports game, with the (scary) adult advantage that he’s able to file lawsuits when things don’t go his way.

Furthermore, it’s no joking matter that this election has been such a close call. It means that a significant portion of the United States chose him to continue to be their president. It’s no joking matter that many people in the Republican party are defending his claims of a rigged or stolen election. And this is encouraging his supporters to take to the streets, even to create a “Stop the Steal” Facebook group that grew to over 300,000 members before being shut down by Facebook after members started talking about violence.

It got me thinking that my country and these people feel completely foreign to me. And I guarantee you that Trump supporters feel the same way about Democrats. It’s like watching two foreign countries trying to operate as one, or a really awkward three-legged race. In a recent NY Times article I read the following quote that sums us up quite well:

The United States is not at all united. We live in two countries. In one, people are willing to grapple with racism and bigotry. We acknowledge that women have a right to bodily autonomy, that every American has a right to vote and the right to health care and the right to a fair living wage. We understand that this is a country of abundance and that the only reason economic disparity exists is because of a continued government refusal to tax the wealthy proportionally.

The other United States is committed to defending white supremacy and patriarchy at all costs. Its citizens are the people who believe in QAnon conspiracy theories and take Mr. Trump’s misinformation as gospel. They see America as a country of scarcity, where there will never be enough of anything to go around, so it is every man and woman for themselves.

In another article titled A Divided Nation Agrees on One Thing: Many People Want a Gun we see how gun sales have shot up because people on both sides of the political spectrum are arming themselves in fear and preparation for the election results. I get the sense that people on both the left and the right feel that “their” country is under attack from the other side.

Credit: Scott McIntyre for The New York Times

I wondered to myself one day while walking down the street passing through a neighborhood with a high immigrant population: “Can a country ever really be ours?” I moved to Spain seven years ago and have made a nice life here. People of other nationalities have also moved here to start fresh or to find better opportunities. I wondered if the people I saw in the streets felt at home here in Spain or if they’re aching for their homelands – a feeling I’ve never had toward the US. In fact I sometimes feel a tad embarrassed calling the US “mine” – especially these four years. I wondered, can we call Spain “our” country? If not now, at what point could we? I feel I’m straddling a line between two different countries and I’m never quite sure which one I want to belong to more.

Would Spanish people argue that Spain isn’t really ours, but only theirs? What makes a country “mine” anyway? Being born there? What’s more, who’s considered an immigrant? I sometimes hear more closed-minded Spanish people talking negatively about the moros or the immigrants that come from Africa or the Middle East. I remind them, hey – I’m an immigrant here too. But they give me confused looks as if one nationality moving to your country is considered an immigrant while another is considered something else – an expat maybe? And at what point is an immigrant no longer an immigrant? With the second generation? When they’ve learned X amount of Spanish? When they’ve integrated into the culture? Do I need Spanish nationality to consider it “my” country?

My first Spanish city – is it really “mine” though?

Going back to thinking about the US, it’s a culture founded on diversity. People have been migrating there for hundreds of years and we’re all (minus the Native Americans) basically immigrants. This is why it’s infuriating to see policies being put into place that “otherify” (my made-up word) people who are entering the country now. Entering “our” country – as if arriving there before makes it somehow ours to claim. Oh, if they’d come 50 years ago they’d be cool? If they’d been born on US soil? Border walls being funded, parents separated from children who are put in cages, I even read that in a White House briefing with Trump, he made a comment suggesting the border guards just start shooting them. I just want to scream, THIS IS NOT WHO WE ARE. We’re better than this. Can’t people make “our” country as welcoming a place for others as for ourselves? I’m not completely convinced America will ever be “mine” but I’d like to hold out hope that with a Biden win, more people can feel safe calling America “theirs.”