I Am Become American Idiot
Essay - August 11, 2020
Today, the pageantry of the beachgoers with their Trump flags dancing in the wind atop their trucks and ATVs make it clear that I am a foreigner in my country. I can already hear the sharp scoffing of my kin as they express their ridicule for my previous statement. My uncle said it is “human nature” that anyone would need to display their affiliation to such an abhorrent presidential regime; my aunt says she’s “praying that god changes” my heart. After which, I assured her that I was hoping, for her, the same. Our event this weekend, a family baby-shower at my cousin’s beach house, is already strange enough to take place during a pandemic. On a video call, my friend in Frankfurt then felt the need to remind me how all of us — Americans, “Westerners,” Etcetera — are complicit in the millions of Covid19 cases, hundreds of thousands of deaths, and the US border camps; he tells me how the blood of children stain our hands. He asks me how my mother, who is Mexican, could vote for a president who works against her and her people.
It was sometime around June following the genesis of protests catalyzed by the murders of Floyd, Arbury, and Tayler, and the already collapsing economy that I decided to save money and move in with my aunt; she lived alone in my grandparent’s old place. Despite knowing she is a Trump-voting Christian, along with my mother, father, and some other members of my family, I moved in with her anyway. Most days, I don’t notice her opinions that I find objectionable because there are certain conversations we avoid. Yet, when happening into a philosophical, ethical, or moral territory, our conversations make very clear the foreigner that I am. Video-calls with open-minded friends in other parts of the world, during this episode, are a form of comfort. After mentioning that I was, for the first time since my teenage years, living in a hetero-religious environment, a friend in Lisbon asked me, “why do you tolerate that?” To which, I began to dive into the question of why, and what, am I tolerating?
As I sit with the privilege of bed, roof, and amenities, I ponder toleration as an American whos government is reigning disaster on its people and the world. Reminded of my foreign intellect, I consider toleration in the presence of god-fearing, trump-voting, it’s-a-relationship-not-religion zealots who make up the majority of my Mexican family, and my State. Two voices come to mind: Jesus in his “forgive them for they know not what they do” and Mark Bradford, who said to Jonathan Griffin in an interview that “I know how to live in a dangerous world that doesn’t want me.” It’s often difficult to feel, in this jarring culture of South Texas, that someone like me would be wanted — let alone acceptable. Since moving back to Texas from Berlin, in 2019, I have, more times than I can count, felt my life was in danger. Regardless, I’ve shamelessly lived as whoever it is that I believed to be my most genuine and honest. The enraged words of an old friend remain on my ear and paint my identity in ugly colors “you’re a black, faggot-boy; just accept it!” Those words left me ruminating of my inherent blackness, the plight against minority people promoted by the American populist, and where I stand within that spectrum. With all of the aforementioned, I wonder how any of this could change for the better; does any of it need to, and how would it, change?
It is daunting to know that I live in the shadow, as we all do, of some very remarkable people. I cower thinking that I could ever ascertain the brilliance of the MLKs and Ella Bakers of the world who do evoke actual change. Yet, whatever makes up the civil rights movement of today reeks with disingenuity. Perhaps because I’m too naïve to know who to trust, or too ignorant to understand what is true
Note: While I am often more confused than confident about my political or social affiliation, this statement isn’t entirely true. In my short life, there are a few notable organizations that have earned, and maintain, my trust: The Equal Justice Initiative, Jessye Norman School, Raices, Partisan Defense Committee, and Shape Community Center to name a few.
Whatever the case, I drift alone, unknowing of who advocates for me or for who I am advocating. What I do know is that the world that exists on screens is far different from reality, and the collapse of the American empire that I am witnessing is an event to which my family seems particularly blind. In my mind, no amount of voting or legislation can change that fact that some people in the world are stupid enough to parade down the beach in massive trucks with trump regime and confederate flags a’waving, while others cheer them along.
Today the world is witnessing America careen towards its next election — which presents, on TV, more like the SuperBowl than politics — and I observe from my metaphysical solitude to see what happens next, hoping that we can avoid global war. Once upon a time, I thought returning to Texas was an opportunity to open the minds of some close-minded southerners, and now I’m afraid that I, the intellectual foreigner, was wrong. As I spend these days in Houston approaching my inevitable escape, I still wonder how I can cease my toleration and how my words and actions might, if at all possible, shape some form of human rights, and speak to the minds of nationalistic “America-first” Americans. Convincing someone that their supposed freedom isn’t worth sacrificing dignity is a tough game to win because not all dignity is identical, and not all ethics crafted the same. Yet, it’s easy for me to see why American society is the way it is when we breed survivalist winners fertilized by fear.
In any case, while my mind is busy constructing a potential picket for Texas’ voting day in November.
Note: These are my current iterations of pickets to hold while standing in line to vote for Joe Biden in hopes that he can push Trump out of office. Many of us don’t like Biden, but just maybe his Vice President will be an amicable choice, and perhaps Biden will resign once in office forfeiting his seat to Her: ‘TWO TERRIBLE CHOICES/THERE IS NO DEMOCRACY; WE’RE VOTING FOR/COLLAPSE OF USA.’ I’m still sketching options.
I also think of the words of Jessye Norman, who stands as a beacon to me in this complicated life, “Ich lebe alleine in meinem Himmel, in meiner Liebe, in meinem Leid. Schöner gibst nicht.”
Note: Of which I interpret as: I live alone in my heaven, in my love, in my song. You can’t get anything more beautiful.
It’s not that today was unlike any other day in America since the pandemic began. It’s that today while standing on the shores of Crystal Beach at Bolivar Peninsula among the Trump ideologues, I realize that I am become the American idiot that I’ve read so much about. This essay is not a cry of self-pity rather a confrontation with the fact that who I am being and what I am willing to tolerate is someone that I can not let endure. My ability to speak about this weighs against my toleration and complicity in this American drama.