The morning after the election, I received a number of text messages from friends and family, each word coming from a place of deep despair and startled by the realization that perhaps we had become too confident or too blind. The blaming commenced. It’s Bernie’s fault. It’s Hillary’s fault. It’s those independents who got us into this mess. One text even reprimanded me: You said there was no chance in hell he could win! True, I had said that by way of assuaging my friend’s pre-election day nerves. And my own. Channeling my inner Bob Marley, I texted back this time: Everything’s gonna be alright. But did I mean that?
I was visiting Arizona during the election. I had proudly mailed in my absentee ballot weeks before, and I had hoped that I would get to see the traditionally red state turn blue, which was one of the many surprising developments this election year. I stayed up watching the Clinton campaign headquarters on TV past midnight, when grief and dejection swallowed up the last shred of hope for a turn of events. Deflated, I dozed off for a few hours. At dawn I looked out the window. My hotel overlooked a mosque in the city of Tempe. I had stopped into its small store the evening before to buy pastries filled with date fruit. I didn’t need those sweets but I walked in to assure myself, to assure the Muslim shopkeeper, that everything was gonna be alright. The first people I spoke to on November 9 were the Latina housekeeper of the hotel and the young African-American woman behind the front desk. “Everything’s gonna be alright,” I said to both of them, the first in Spanish ("Todo va a estar bien"), the second in English, and they understood why I had said that. By the third time I repeated the phrase, I knew that I meant it.
Everything’s gonna be alright because we have no choice but to keep our spirits up, but to move forward and make sure that, no matter how much ground is lost during the next four years, no matter how much our sense of safety is compromised, that we have enough strength to survive it. But we have to do more than pull through — we have to build on that activist fervor and labor that made it possible to reach 2016 with the expectation of a better tomorrow. The journey from hopelessness to hopeful is so arduous and costly that we can’t slip back into that dark space so quickly. Disappointment doesn’t mean resignation. Setback doesn’t mean defeat. Did not our activist ancestry teach us that?
Even over the last decade, I have witnessed such moments of exceptional courage and resilience from our many communities (the queer and trans, the undocumented, the Muslim) under siege by prejudice and intolerance. And there was heartache, and there were tears — it’s important to acknowledge our wounded responses as well — but faith and pride and love were also present in our protests, our memorials, our expressions of support and solidarity. We cannot allow such light to dim beneath the gloom of uncertainty and distress.
What we’re experiencing here is not a wake-up call unless we haven’t been paying attention.
One of my relatives said to me, “Prepare yourself for at least four years of torture,” and I wanted to say that for many of us, our entire lives have been lived in preparation for assault and violence in its many forms. I’m not going to get ready, I’ve been ready! What we’re experiencing here is not a wake-up call unless we haven’t been paying attention. What we’re being presented with is a stark reminder of our duties and responsibilities as inhabitants of this troubled country we call home. This home is too precious to simply cave our dreams into disillusion, and those who came before us, who fought the difficult battles during more disturbing periods in American history, have to be honored with more grace and gratitude than with our surrender.
More than ever, those who feel vulnerable, those who feel a palpable threat to their bodies, their peace of mind, need to hear from those of us who, though rattled, are not giving up hope by allowing the doomsday narratives to take hold of our imaginations. At one point, before the election, I joked that since I was going to be so close to the border, if things went south so would I, into Mexico. Well, things did go south but I am staying put, standing firm because my optimism, my faith in my beloved communities, is more necessary than ever. I will not offer solutions because it is not up to me to do so, it is up to us to generate those discussions and to amplify the intelligent voices of those leaders who will guide us through the Trump presidency. But in the immediate moment I believe it’s important to state, clearly and loudly, that we will not be passive or afraid to act.
When I was a child, when I learned of the death of my mother, when I learned of the deportations of many of my relatives — the house suddenly so cold and empty, the outside world so dangerous — the adults around me demonstrated a level of calm and composure that made it possible for me not to shatter into panic. I now understand how much energy that took, and how much love. That bravery allowed all of us to keep our world intact even though it was broken. We must become the example of good character that the president-elect is not.
The bravery inside of me asks that I continue to do what I do best: advocate for writers of all colors and sexualities, to make sure that those experiences and identities continue to be visible and available, especially to those who need them, who need the solace that comes from knowing their lives have a place here and there and everywhere. And at the moment, I need them. I need my communities in order to keep my world intact, and to participate in its health for my sake and the sake of others. Each one of you must listen to what your bravery asks of you, and then do it.
I have one final admission: When I left my hotel and stepped out into the street for the first time after the election, my knees shook, as if I was just learning to stand on my own two feet. I expected to fall but I didn’t. In fact, I even tittered, embarrassed by the idea of losing my balance. How could I dare drop when I had been taught and nurtured so well all these years by my parents, my mentors, and literary ancestors? That lifetime of uplifting was no easy labor, so neither will I make it easy to bring me down. I raised my chin and took the next step with all the fire and fury that is my legacy and recited my mantras: I will breathe. I will live. I will write. I will fight. And everything’s gonna be alright.
Rigoberto González is the author of thirteen books of poetry and prose and the editor of Camino del Sol: Fifteen Years of Latina and Latino Literature. He is the recipient of Guggenheim and NEA fellowships, winner of the American Book Award, The Poetry Center Book Award, The Shelley Memorial Award of The Poetry Society of America, and a grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts. He is contributing editor for Poets & Writers Magazine, on the executive board of directors of the National Book Critics Circle, and is associate professor of English at Rutgers-Newark, the State University of New Jersey.
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