My mother cried on election night. In her years here, she has witnessed every American election since 1972. Never once did she cry. That should say something about this election.
She visited the weekend before the election to see her grandchildren and after they went to bed she asked me gravely, “mijo, do you really think he can win?”
I, one of those urban, intellectual, academic, elites told her it would be hard. He’d have to carry key states and he lacked the sophisticated political machine to deliver the vote, I reassured her. I told her the nation had changed. I told her that Latino families like ours were becoming increasingly common. Interracial marriages like mine, hers, my sister’s, two of my aunts’, two of my uncles’, and most of our friends’ were growing at faster rates. In 2010, Pew Research Center reported that 15% of newly married couples were interracial, compared to just 6.7% in 1980. Someone who told the nation that their spouses, their in-laws, their coworkers, their fellow church members were the problem simply couldn’t win an election, I said.
I was wrong.
For the last eight years, we’ve had a running joke about Obama’s America in my family—every time there is a cross-cultural mixing, we laugh that it’s sign of the changing times. Eating caldo de pollo and paneer masala on leftovers night for dinner; when your kid wants tacos de frijoles and pizza for the same meal; when you describe your vision for your wedding as “My Big-Fat-Mexican-Indian-Wedding” to your wedding planner; when your white wife gets “Latina mom-shamed” by the teachers at the children’s Spanish immersion nursery school; when your son asks to watch the Disney movie “Up” but calls it casa de globos—it was because it was “Obama’s America” now. But, we always said it in good humor, because the cultural jumbling that was happening in our families and lives was something positive. The lines that divided cultures, cuisines, and languages were blurring and we were witnessing that in our own worlds. There was finally a place for us in our nation and we saw it reflected in a half-black, half-white president, born of an immigrant father and a white mother, who loved basketball and wore dad jeans.
We never thought our lives, our marriages, or our children threatened others. Yes, the culture and the complexion of the nation were changing but that wasn’t a bad thing. (Okay horchata microbrews and the whopper-ritos are disgusting, but that’s not on us.) America wasn’t just a melting pot anymore. It was also a gumbo, a caldo, a biriyani. It was so many more metaphors and it was so many more beautiful things. It was our home. And to those who yelled that “we need to take our country back” for the last years and for those who believed we needed to “make America great again,” we had no answers or responses. We had only our confusion. We hadn’t stolen anything; we hadn’t ruined the nation. We had only, for a passing moment, felt at home in our country.
My mother stayed up until the early hours of the morning waiting to hear the results of the election. She went to bed much later than I did. She stayed up because her faith in American democracy runs deep. She woke up the next morning feeling decepcionada, as she explained it to me, reaching for the only word to convey her sense of disappointment and disillusionment.
My wife woke up in the middle of last Tuesday night to feed our seven month old daughter. Our daughter is so confident in her own strength. She moves without fear. She already makes decisions with conviction. She grasps at ceilings knowing that she can’t reach them yet, but that one day she will.
Last night, my two and a half year old son fell asleep reciting the alphabet over and over. First in Spanish. Then in English. A, B, C, he would begin. Then he would start over again, A, B, C, Ch. At night, he prays for his family, his amigos, and his maestras. His words and worlds are fluidly bilingual. He lives a poetry that his ancestors couldn’t dream of. And in whatever language he chooses, whichever he chooses to pray in, I know that in his code-switching he chants democratic.