August 9, 2019

Homegrown Terrorism: We are a Collectively Traumatized People.


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I will forever remember how it felt to wake up the morning of January 20, 2017, because it felt eerily similar to how I woke up on August 14, 2008—the morning after my dad died.

It was the morning of Trump’s inauguration as President of the United States. 

Waking up on both these days was like shaking myself from an unshakable stupor, a slowly dawning recognition that what you so desperately hoped was a nightmare was in fact your reality. I woke up choking on my tears, woke with the sensation of a heavy weight pressing down on my chest, and woke up feeling as if the ground had dropped out beneath me.

On August 14, I woke to the reality of losing my dad forever. 

On January 20, I woke to a far less definitive, no less terrifying loss. 

With horror, I watched our country pass from hands that had felt strong, empathetic, compassionate, and trustworthy, to hands I feared would drop us all if it meant saving himself. And make no mistake, it would always be about saving himself. 

In those early days of Trump’s presidency, I feared other losses, like being separated from the rest of my family by what seemed like a growing chasm of differences of belief. My outspoken, raw emotions were either met with silence, neutrality, a change of topic, or vague references of support of our new leader. The divide cut deeper than political differences; deeper than Republican versus Democrat. It cut into the heart of who I am and who I care for and how I love. 

I remember trying to explain to my mom, in the wake of Trump’s first actions as president, “This man is going after nearly everyone and everything I hold dear: Mexicans, immigrants, African Americans, refugees, women, minorities, Muslims, the environment, endangered species…It feels personal, so personal.” I struggled to find the words to convey how offensive I found him, and between the lines, how deeply it cut that she didn’t have anything to say in response.

And nearly three years later, we still don’t talk about it.

I am a white woman, a citizen of this country, married to a Mexican immigrant. I have not been one of Trump’s direct targets, though he hates women, especially those who call him out for the insecure, ego-driven, malicious bully he is.  

I am a secondary target. I absorb the blows of his violent words against others with my ears, my eyes, my flesh. At night, I curl up in bed next to a man whose people Trump has called criminals and rapists and drug lords. This man, who I would cross borders with and shield with my body if I had to, is my people. And his people are my people. Any violation against them, even far removed, is also my affliction.

I am proud to be an honorary Mexican-by-proxy. I cannot be silent or detached when the leader of our nation is persecuting people that I love. Three years of provocation and the gloves have come off. 

I fight back with words and protests, votes and guttural cries, and love as sharp as flint.

We are a collectively traumatized people.

A crowd gathered in Times Square two nights ago, ran in terror at the sound of a motorcycle backfiring. They thought it was an active shooter. 

In the grocery store the other day, I locked eyes with a smiling Latina baby girl held in the crook of her daddy’s arm and, in an instant, felt the sobs swell from my chest. I stood in the checkout line, swallowing a knot of grief as images of the families shopping at the Walmart in El Paso three days before, gunned down by a white terrorist, flashed in my thoughts.

And it’s not just the mass shootings that have rattled our nerves, blown through our hearts, bled us out in the streets, in schools, in bars and synagogues, in churches and stores, behind closed doors. It’s the words of the president that have pulled the trigger on us and our neighbors, again and again, the one who vowed to protect and uphold us. While mourners huddle in grief, he fires shots on Twitter and from the bully pulpit, unwilling to see the carnage that follows in his wake. 

We have been nearly three years on edge, wide-eyed, and hypervigilant. We have watched as our black and brown neighbors, family, and loved ones have been ridiculed, insulted, hunted down, shot, thrown behind bars, rounded up, and deported. 

We have had no one to comfort us from the Capital.

The tears finally did fall while watching a video of Beto O’Rourke speaking at the vigil in El Paso, his hometown. This man spoke, not as a presidential candidate but as a son of the community, with raw emotion, with strength and humility, with unwavering faith in the strength and love of his community.

“That tragedy yesterday will not be allowed to define us,” he said. “Instead, we will be known forever after by the way we came together and overcame this tragedy together—as human beings first, before we are anything else.”

His voice and words, upon impact, unleashed a torrent of grief. This was the first time since Obama that I had heard a leader in our country reach through the trauma and address the hearts of a people, the nation, with hope. With fire. With love. 

I wept because it had been so long, so very very long.

And for the first time since that morning in January almost three years ago, I heard more than a whisper of resurrection

We are only just beginning.

And we are. From Dayton to El Paso, California to Arizona, Baltimore to Washington D.C., rippling along the border of Mexico, spreading to the heart of the nation—we are rising up from what has stung like death. 

And this time, I believe, we can shake ourselves from the stupor.  

“They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.” ~ Dinos Christianopoulos


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