I don’t really know you very well. I met you for the first time when my family and I travelled to Rogers, Arkansas to see you marry my nephew. I knew my nephew at some point. I saw him grow up here in Los Angeles until my brother and his wife thought the streets of Woodland Hills too gang-infested and uprooted their entire family to the enclaves of my sister-in-law’s home state. Shortly after, sometime in the 1990s, my mother and I travelled to Arkansas on an Amtrak train for two days (don’t ask – I still haven’t forgiven my mother for refusing to fly) to visit and see our family’s new dwellings. You weren’t in the picture yet – your husband was still a teenager. Despite the torturous train ride, we relished the opportunity to spend time with my brother and his family. We were even excited to see a new part of the country.
Years later, our entire family travelled to Arkansas to attend your wedding. It was a lovely reception. You and your husband played Enrique Iglesias’ Hero in Spanish as you walked down the aisle. A mariachi was hired to play at the small reception that took place in the backyard of my brother’s house – the one my mother helped him buy. I even remember my sister-in-law’s sister remark “there’s so many of them – like roaches” when the Mexican side of the family congregated inside the house, waiting for the reception to start. It was, for the most part, a really good time.
I haven’t been back to Arkansas since then. Life has, you know, happened. I’m a lawyer now. I have my own office. I got married and last year my husband was denied entry into the United States for reasons we don’t know or understand and so I use any time I can get away from the office to visit and spend time with him in El Salvador. If I’m being honest, I couldn’t tell you that I would visit Arkansas even if that wasn’t the case. I’ve always had dreams of travelling to Paris and Barcelona and London. And I definitely would like to make it to Germany at some point because, I don’t know if you know this, my father who was my mother’s second husband was in the United States Army and fought in World War II. I’ve been told he was stationed in Germany but I can’t verify that because he died when I was 10 years old after many years of battling an alcohol addiction. His family stopped talking to me after he died. Between you and me, his family never liked my mother because she was undocumented and already had three children in Mexico when they married. My brother, your father-in-law, was one of those three children.
Anyway, I’m getting so sidetracked. For now, I’ll just say that I still haven’t lost hope that one day I’ll be reunited with my husband but that hope certainly did take a hit on Tuesday, November 8th. In case it’s slipped your mind, that was the day our country voted Donald Trump into office. Now, I’m not going to kid myself, I know you voted for Trump. I know my brother, his wife and the rest of his kids voted for Trump too. I knew that going in and while I threatened my mother that I would never go visit my brother should he ever come out to Los Angeles to spend time with her, I was only half-serious. I wouldn't put my mother through that turmoil. She just wants us to get along.
That was a really tough day though and, I’m not going to lie to you, the days since haven’t exactly gotten better. Trying to describe what the election of DT felt like to people who voted for him is hard. At least I imagine it would be hard. I haven’t really talked to anybody who voted for him. I did have some brief exchanges with a couple of Trump supporters on Facebook but then I deleted their accounts. I don’t know if you heard but I also deleted my brother and his wife and his children. I didn’t delete you and your husband’s account because you two deleted me on Facebook years ago. If I’m being honest, I may have proclaimed your deletion of my account as a badge of honor at some point.
Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked again. November 8th and the day after. I know this sounds melodramatic, extreme, unbelievable perhaps but those were probably the worst days of my life. Worse than the day my father died. Worse even than the day I learned my husband was denied entry into this country. I suspect you will never understand why the reaction was so severe. I have a hard time understanding it myself. But it was like someone had punched me in the gut. Hard. Knocked the air out of me and then kicked me when I was down. I didn’t know it would hurt so much to learn this country hated me. It’s not like I didn’t have my suspicions. I’ve been fighting discrimination and bigotry all my life. In case you didn’t know Ashley, I’m an employment lawyer here in California and I represent workers who have been discriminated against in the workplace. My clients have included Latina women, Gay men, workers with disabilities, White women, White men, undocumented workers, and even women raped by their supervisors. Discrimination is everywhere. Even here in California. I’ve known that for most of my life. I’ve felt it. I guess I just didn’t think this country would ever celebrate discrimination and elect its greatest perpetrator. I was naïve. I believed, despite my wildly proclaimed cynicism, in the good of people. Yeah, it’s been tough. Really tough.
I won’t pretend that I know exactly what November 8th and 9th were like for you. I don’t know if you celebrated, felt a sense of relief, got a good night of sleep or simply checked the results and moved on with your life. The only thing I know is that on the day after your candidate was elected, you sent my sister an email. There was no mention of the election of course. You know that we all here in California voted for Clinton. You know that we are political polar opposites. Instead, you sent an email asking my sister for a favor.
On the day after Trump was elected, you wanted to know if she could get our mother to write out her favorite recipes by hand. You wanted to frame those recipes as a Christmas gift for my brother. I’m presuming you didn’t ask my mother directly because she doesn’t speak English and you don’t speak Spanish. I’m presuming you didn’t ask your husband to call his grandmother directly because he doesn’t speak Spanish either. In some ways it’s good you weren’t able to call my mother directly because I don’t think she would have taken your request too kindly. First, there are no recipes to write. She makes her pozole and her frijoles con chorizo and her sopaipillas from memory. Second, my mother is not very sentimental but it’s not fair to expect you to know that. You don’t really know her. I think you’ve met her twice.
Wednesday. The day after the elections. The day I saw your email. I was pretty useless that day even though I had a lot work that had to be done that week. I hadn’t slept much the night before. I didn’t find the energy to get out of bed until past 10:00 a.m. and, even when I dragged myself to my office, I spent much of the day bursting into tears in complete shock that this country that I had finally felt a part of had rejected diversity so swiftly. Trust me, I was as surprised by my reaction as you probably are reading this letter. I mean this is not how I reacted when George W. Bush won in 2000 and 2004. This was not how I reacted when his father won in 1988. I didn’t react this way even when Geraldine Ferraro and Walter Mondale lost so miserably in 1984. (I didn’t vote in that election because I was too young but, yes, I have been interested in politics for a long time and I remember vividly the shellacking the Democratic ticket took that year.) (I remember too that my brother’s wife tried to convince me that no woman should ever be near the White House because there was no way to know what she would do when she was on her period which, in retrospect, is a really terrible thing to say to a 15-year-old girl already showing an interest in politics.) None of those previous political losses had ever caused such grief, despair, and utter hopelessness.
Anyway, what I’m trying to telling you is that I was livid when I saw your email to my sister. I did not and could not understand how you could send that precise email on that precise day. I hadn’t talked to my mother the entire day after the election because I was a mess and I knew that I would burst into tears upon hearing her voice. And there you were contacting my sister like it was just a regular day, like nothing had changed. There you were reducing my mother’s experiences in this country to some recipes and some food. There you were treating this side of your family like an asterisk in your life, like adornment in your Pinterest life. The day after voting for a man who had reduced Mexican immigrants to rapists and murderers and promised to deport every single undocumented person in this country, there you were asking my mother to write out her favorite recipes with the same hands she used to work all her life in menial jobs so that her children could enjoy a better life than hers.
I won’t tell you how I suggested my sister respond to you because it was not very nice. But, Ashley, I do want you to know that we are not your Cinco de Mayo celebration, your Taco Tuesday, your Happy Hour Margarita. We are real people. We have dreams and goals and fears just like you and your family. We have made contributions to this country that you will never know of. And, yes, we also have flaws just like you. In my world, you don’t get to vote directly against us and then celebrate our food and the things about us that are not threatening to you. But, alas, it’s not my world. My mother will begrudgingly write out her recipes, my sisters will take the time to send them to you, and you will gift them to my brother. And they will all go on pretending that you didn’t vote to deport our cousins and my husband because they are better people than me. And I guess those recipes will make all of you in Arkansas feel better, maybe assuage any pangs of guilt for voting the way you did – the existence of which are in serious doubt. Perhaps those recipes will serve as proof that you are not, in fact, racist. Me? I know what you are. I know how you feel. And the recipe card I wanted to send you would have read: If you want Mexican food, I hear the Trump Tower has a good taco bowl.