The first thing I ever learned in school was how to say stand up straight, put my hand over my heart, and recite the pledge of allegiance.
Some of the first stories I ever learned were those of Betsy Ross, Paul Revere, and Johnny Appleseed. I had memorized the lyrics of “The Star Spangled Banner” and “My Country Tis of Thee” before I could divide fractions. As the daughter of a veteran, I knew before I started middle school that a flag can never touch the ground and that there’s only one word that every letter of the alphabet can be “as in.” (“Did you just say ‘A as in apple?’ Are you kidding me?”)
I am an American, born and bred. I was taught to love this country from day one. In retrospect, a young five year-old Catherine probably could have benefitted from a slightly broader worldview—(to be clear, I do not blame my parents for this)—but I am certain that my upbringing was the primary contributing factor to the strong American identity I hold today, and it is an identity I treasure deeply.
I have never questioned my place in this country. I have always believed that I belong to it and it belongs to me. After all, I was part of a “melting pot” of races, ethnicities, religions, etc. “How cool!” I remember thinking. “A country that anyone can call home.” I held my five year-old head high with pride.
My worldview has widened in the last fifteen years. In high school and (mostly) college, I have become more aware of the complexities that come with being a nation of nations. But even as these complexities have caused me to consider the dark side of nationalism, at my core—in my heart—that pride I felt in Kindergarten every time I stood to say the pledge has never wavered. My version of nationalistic pride stands for inclusion, for acceptance, and for love.
The results of this year’s election caused me to question that pride.
The past 72 hours have been a whirlwind. The first 24 were marked with an impressive despondency rivaled only by my memories of September 11, 2001. The day after the election, glances in the dining halls were met with knowing eyes and half-smiles. “How are you?” was asked with an intonation that indicated deep concern. The typical responses offered a mutual sentiment. “I’m alright,” “Not great,” “Holding in there.”
The night after the election, I sat outside of Memorial Church and called my 13 year-old sister, who was sitting at home 2,000 miles away in the conservative midwestern town of Barrington, Illinois. Michaela is much smarter than most people her age. She’s thoughtful, curious, and incredibly intelligent. When I prompted her for her thoughts on the president-elect, she had only one question for me.
“Ate, why is this so bad?”
I looked up at the face of the golden church and took a deep breath. Why was this so bad? Why was my mother crying today? Why can’t I stop crying today? Is the sky really falling? How bad can it be?
I searched for the words to explain to my sister that the win for this presidential candidate was a win for bigotry and hatred. I wracked my brain for a way to tell her that millions of Americans, myself and her mother included, now have to fear for their own safety and sense of belonging in the place that they had previously called home. I fumbled for the words to convey that it was real people out there who actively supported the divisive principles of the president-elect’s campaign with their single, precious vote. I wanted to explain to her that this candidate who had just been elected to the highest office in the land just spent eighteen months attacking not what people believe, but who they are.
I did the best I could to explain all this with the words I found under the churchlight and the stars.
To my great relief—and admitted surprise—the sun has risen every day since Tuesday. And as the days have come and gone, the feeling of hopelessness brought about by the election results have slowly been weathered by sunshine. Conversations with my peers and my family have helped me to come to grips with the reality of the next four years, and have even left me feeling motivated to be the difference. (Like f*ck a politic, but now that Michelle’s no longer in the White House and Oprah’s out chillin’ in retirement, young women across the country are gonna need somebody to look up to…)
So despite the results of the presidential election of 2016, I’ve decided that I still believe in the America I was raised to believe in. It’s the America that stands for love and acceptance, that strives for progress, and that demands justice. I’ve known that I belong here since I was five years old, and nothing and nobody can change that.
This is my America, too. Donald Stupid Fucking Trump can’t take that from me. Only I can give it up.
After all, when they go low, we go high.
**A previous version of this post said the presidential election of 2018. Yeah idk. I guess I need to sleep more.