Friday, November 29, 2019

When you have to make a choice.

I loved the America I came to, back in 1994. I didn't love Clinton, president at that time. Of course, I didn't have a clue about American politics. In fact, I knew nothing about politics period. I cared nothing about politics. The only thing I knew about Clinton was that he was a lousy husband. I had experience there and so I didn't like him.

During the fall and winter of 1994 I lived in a big house on Lake Austin, house sitting, sort of like legal squatting. One day I answered the phone - yes a land line - and was asked by a disinterested voice if I considered myself to be a Democrat or a Republican. That was when I realized if I was going to be an American, I needed to pick sides, I needed to know what I believed in, I needed to understand what each party stood for, and what I stood for.

This was very disconcerting. First of all, as I said, I cared little or nothing about politics, secondly even less about US politics. From the day I turned 18, I voted because I believed in exercising a right that women fought for. But I pretty much followed the normal Irish family loyalties and didn't understand what I was voting for.

Here I was 'born again' in my second chance life. If I was to embrace my new American life, I needed to understand the political choices, even if there were only two - that in itself was strange to me.  Little did I know back then that everything in America is either black or white. And to the majority of those Americans with what used to be, hidden prejudice, if you were not white, you were black - or at the very least 'colored'.

So I answered the disinterested voice with "I have no idea, I will have to find out" and hung up.

I grew up in Ireland. And even by Irish standards I was a bit of a rebel. Also, I didn't yet understand that in America you don't talk about politics or religion unless you know who you are talking to, and if it is safe; though I am not sure that would have made any impression on me. I asked just about everyone I met if they could explain the difference between Democrat and Republican. Of course, I knew that I was going to get a response slanted towards the respondents personal choice and, like religion, they would try to convert me. One person I came across under relatively unusual circumstances, stands out in my memory because to this day I can't figure out what side he was on. Perhaps he was a libertarian? Maybe there are more than two choices? nah, not really.

The circumstance was a party at the lake house where I was house sitting, not my party, in fact I didn't even know it was planned. The couple who drove me down to Texas from Northern Michigan and decided to stay a while threw the party.  Kevin had just completed a rather long drug study - two weeks - the drug being studied was an anti depressant. There is a lot of money to be made doing drug studies and this allowed them to continue to live by the lake until their next adventure. Two weeks of possibly being on anti depressants fosters a camaraderie apparently, and the group of guinea pigs were loath to part ways and so gathered around the pool to continue to enjoy each other's company.  I had work the next day but as I couldn't sleep with all the noise I joined the party. This is where I continued my political survey.

One of the participants in the drug study, and my survey, took my question very seriously and responded at length. He carefully described the various policies and inclinations of both parties in an incredibly unbiased fashion. When I dug deeper with specific questions he responded to these in the same way. My experience since has been that this young man must be the only person in America who can remain so objective when discussing politics. In fact, he was so objective I was still unsure of where I stood. But, what he did give me was an education and a starting point from which I could then observe and continue to learn and finally decide.

What decided me was watching the way people behaved and reacted to each other, to tragedy and to triumph; and eventually exposing their inner prejudices, or lack thereof. More importantly, how they responded based on those prejudices. Because of course we are all products of our upbringing, we all inherit prejudices we don't even know we have. But it is how we deal with them, how we respond to one another when it really counts, that is what decides who and what you really are. And that is what helped me to decide which side I was going to come down on the next time I got a phone call asking what my political leaning is because, at that stage I was not in a position to vote; that came later, now that I have the right to vote I use it, I just wish more Americans did too.

My choice is empathy.

My choice is kindness

My choice is tolerance.

I am still working on the latter, sometimes it is not easy, particularly when coming up against someone with no understanding of all three.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Living the dream

That is what I was doing. For 22 years, despite some not so good experiences, I was living the dream. I won a green card in the lottery and in 1994 I arrived in America - no, the streets were not paved with gold and I never expected them to be, but the opportunities were there for anyone who was prepared to work hard enough to get within grasping distance; and I was, and I did. The story is documented in my book.

But now the dream has crumbled and I am beginning to feel that I am living in a nightmare. Ever since the election in 2016, all of my fears are one by one, becoming reality. Before the election I continuously lamented the future that I saw should the unthinkable happen. My husband assured me that America would never allow such an atrocity; it did.

At first I thought that it was horrible to see the hatred being created, but then I realized it was there all the time. All that had changed is that the new regime condoned hatred, bigotry, racism and nepotism. If the President of the United States openly displayed these traits then all of those Americans sharing such unbelievable 'unAmerican' feelings crawled out from under the stones and out of their swamps. How could I have believed this was the land of the free, home of the brave? it is the land of the worst kind of hatred, greed and evil. Why would anyone believe that just because the war against slavery was won, the feelings that created slavery were not still in existence?

I told my husband that if Trump became president I would leave the US - I couldn't imagine continuing to live here, to my mind that would not only be condoning all that he stood for, but also giving up the opportunity to enjoy the fruits of the new life that I had fought so hard to create. Of course I would not leave my husband, and I know he would have come with me. But we couldn't leave. The irony of it is I was stuck in this nightmare because of my responsibilities to a republican who voted for this monster. My widowed mother in law lived with us from the time her husband was moved into a home with Alzheimer's and she was fast losing her eyesight. We had willingly taken on the responsibility of caring for her, and while that was in better times, the responsibility and the commitment still remained. I was trapped.

My life had become a treadmill again and the dream was shattered, because a dream was all it was, now I am in the real America where the only people who will ever prosper are rich, fat white men - possibly a requirement is blond hair and blue eyes. We are back in Nazi Germany - with people who don't match the exact specification being locked up in cages. Seriously, who would ever have believed that America would excuse kidnapping children and locking them up in cages! Who could have believed that America would stomp on refugees fleeing from war, poverty and torture. I do not want to be associated with the people here who think that is OK.

I can't even imagine the awful panic those children are experiencing. If they survive to grow old, they will never forget, and no doubt will relive it in times of stress. I hesitate to describe the small trauma I experienced when I was about 6 years old, because it was so small compared with what these children are going through. I was out shopping for back to school supplies with my mother and my siblings - as we walked along the busy city street suddenly I was on my own. I didn't know it, but my mother had turned into one of the stores and I had continued walking. I can still feel the panic deep inside of me that I felt when I suddenly realized I was on a strange street, surrounded by strange people, and I had no clue where my mother was. I was sure I would never see her again. What these poor children are experiencing is so much worse, I was free to run up and down the street and scream - and I did. There were people on the street prepared to help me - and they did. My terror only lasted for less than 5 minutes, as my mother realized I was missing and came out of the store looking for me. Who is going to help these poor forgotten children in cages?

I watch the poor becoming poorer and the rich becoming richer, education being chipped away at, health care becoming a privilege of the rich and a woman's right to choose being removed and put in the hands of those rich, fat, white men. I wonder, can this country ever recover from this? And will I ever feel the same about America? I don't think so. Now that I know how much hatred, racism and greed exists all around me, I want to leave, never to return.

As the 2020 elections approach, even with the impeachment hearing in progress, the same fears fill my head. I don't trust the processes in place to protect the American people from such a criminal and self serving administration; they are just processes with no real power to do anything but point fingers and attach labels. Tyrants and dictators cannot be controlled by being labeled and children cannot be reunited with their parents by pointless processes devised hundreds of years ago for a totally different time and circumstance.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A foreigner in 'the world'

Before I start, let me be clear that in this discussion, when I refer to Americans I mean those Americans from the United States of America. I also freely accept that there are exceptions.

Americans have no idea how difficult it is to be a foreigner in America. Actually, the problem is that they really do think that America is the world, they don't realize that different cultures and habits exist outside their world. Anyone over a certain age, who comes to to this country has to forever deal with the fact that they will frequently be seen by Americans as somewhat stupid because they do not speak the same way or have the same local knowledge as Americans have.

Over the 25+ years that I have lived here, I mostly tolerate being teased for my accent or the words that Americans fondly assume I am misusing just because they are different; and laughed at for not knowing local or even statewide general knowledge or even considered weird because I never heard of some fondly remember TV series from years ago.  But just sometimes it really irritates the hell out of me. It goes along with the 'world series' which consists of American baseball teams playing an American game, in America.  The world champion race horse that was the champion in the US and had never raced outside the US; and all the other 'world' events that were what Americans consider to be the world.

It didn't take me long to establish that the majority of Americans never left their own State, let alone their country. After all, to be fair, it is a huge country - but the world out there is bigger, and there are so many diverse cultures, way older, than the US - it is sometimes hard to be treated like I am the half wit and they know everything. Yet I have traveled to so many different places, eaten their food, been enthralled by their architecture and culture; sometimes, just sometimes I feel that is was a big mistake to think I could come to this country and find a place where I would be accepted and comfortable. As I get older, returning to where I am most accepted becomes more appealing.

Read this very old blog entry to see some of what I mean about language differences.