What does it mean to be an American in the Presidency of Donald Trump? These past few weeks have been anxious times for me, but I’ve been reading articles advising liberal Democrats how we can still fight for our values within the institutions of the democratic republic that our Founding Fathers built for us. I still love this country, in spite of its flaws. I will continue to speak out and fight for the causes I believe in. Immigrant rights. Defending Muslim Americans from scapegoating. Supporting Black Lives Matter. Fighting for LGBT rights and marriage equality. Helping the poor and marginalized.
If there is any common ground with Trump and the Republican Congress, I’ll support those issues. I just don’t see that much common ground though. America has had troubled times in the past. I hope to gain inspiration from Americans who spoke out during troubled times: Martin Luther King Jr., Dalton Trumbo, Frederick Douglass, Fannie Lou Hamer, Eugene Debs, Muriel Rukeyser, and many more. These Americans kept fighting for America to live up to its highest values when it was easy to lose faith in America.
The day after the election results, I was feeling depressed. Then I read a poem by Langston Hughes that cheered me up. The poem is titled “Let America Be America Again”. Langston wrote:
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!
I believe in the multicultural America that Langston Hughes wrote about in his poem. I know the history of racism and sexism and homophobia in America. But I also know the history of Americans fighting against these vices and working to make sure that all people have the freedom and equality in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. For minorities, a love of America is also mixed with a pain that this country hasn’t always treated them as American citizens with the full rights that citizenship is supposed to bestow. I know that Filipino Americans were discriminated against during much of American history. There used to be laws that forced Filipinos into low paying jobs without any workplace protections to prevent exploitation. Stores used to display signs saying “No Filipinos and dogs”. There used to be laws that prevented Filipinos from marrying Americans of a different race.
In spite of these abuses, Filipino Americans like Carlos Bulosan still believed in America. Bulosan wrote:
America is not a land of one race or one class of men. We are all Americans that have toiled and suffered and known oppression and defeat, from the first Indian that offered peace in Manhattan to the last Filipino peapickers. America is not bound by geographical latitudes. America is not merely a land or an institution. America is in the hearts of men that died for freedom; it is also in the eyes of men that are building a new world. America is a prophecy of a new society of men: of a system that knows no sorrow or strife of suffering. America is a warning to those who would try to falsify the ideals of free men.
America is also the nameless foreigner, the homeless refugee, the hungry boy begging for a job and the black body dangling from a tree. America is the illiterate immigrant who is ashamed that the world of books and intellectual opportunities is closed to him. We are all that nameless foreigner, that homeless refugee, that hungry boy, that illiterate immigrant and that lynched black body. All of us, from the first Adam to the last Filipino, native born or alien, educated or illiterate- We are America!
I am the son of immigrant parents and I am grateful for their sacrifice so that I could have opportunities that they never had. They believe in America in the same way that many immigrant parents believed in the American dream of freedom and opportunity.
Nicholas Kristof wrote in an article in the New York Times:
I will accept that my side lost, but I won’t acquiesce in injustice and I will gird for battle on issues I care about. I will call or write my member of Congress and express my opposition to mass deportation, to cutting 22 million people off health insurance, to nominations of people who are unqualified or bigoted, to reduced access to contraception and cancer screenings. Better yet, I’ll attend my representative’s town meeting and put him or her on the spot…
…I will avoid demonizing people who don’t agree with me about this election, recognizing that it’s as wrong to stereotype Trump supporters as anybody else…
…I will support groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center that fight hate groups, and back the center’s petition calling on Donald Trump to disavow bigotry. Depending on my interests, I’ll support an immigration rights group, the A.C.L.U. or Planned Parenthood. And I’ll subscribe to a newspaper as one way of resisting efforts to squelch the news media or preside over a post-fact landscape — and also to encourage journalists to be watchdogs, not lap dogs…
…I will resist dwelling in an echo chamber. I will follow smart people on Twitter or Facebook with whom I disagree. I will also try to enlarge my social circle to include people with different views, recognizing that diversity is a wonderful thing — and that if I know only Clinton supporters, then I don’t have a clue about America.
D.D. Guttenplan wrote an article for The Nation telling Americans to fight for our democracy. Guttenplan wrote:
…if we withdraw into our private grief and abandon those who, this morning, feel most threatened by the result—Muslim Americans, Hispanic Americans, LGBTQ Americans, women, inner-city youth—history will never forgive us.
Instead, we have to stand up, and fight back…
… Where Trump’s proposals are progressive, we should back them—regardless of his motives. But when—as will far more often be the case—they offer pretend solutions, we should expose them. And when they pose a threat to our rights, our fellow citizens, or the health of our planet, we must oppose them by every peaceful means at our disposal, from filibuster in the Senate and endless amendments in the House to physical obstruction of the machinery of repression, including massive mobilization and demonstrations on our streets and in our cities.
Given Trump’s rhetoric, we would be foolish not to expect repression in return. So we must be prepared for that, too, politically, by strengthening groups like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, Black Lives Matter, and the immigrant-rights movement; emotionally, by practicing solidarity; and practically, by picking our battles and not wasting precious time and energy on infighting and sectarian hair-splitting. If we’re going to survive the Trump regime, and have any hope of blocking it in 2018 and overturning it in 2020, we’re going to have to work together: Clinton and Stein voters, gay and straight, black and brown and white, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, socialist and liberal (and even some libertarians).
The next four years will test our country—and our movement—like nothing else we have seen in our lifetimes. Welcome to the fight.
During the past few years, there have been things that have made me proud to be American. Here are some photos I took of those times.
Last year, my wife and I were thrilled about the Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage. We both contacted our gay and lesbian friends on Facebook and they shared their excitement over the ruling. We couldn’t make the Pride Parade that Sunday, but we decided to go to the block celebration in Castro Street in San Francisco that Saturday. We went with our two nieces and it was a joyous experience. Even the police officers were smiling and getting hugs from many of the celebrants in Castro Street.
In 2014 I went in the last Freedom Train from San Jose to San Francisco. A few weeks before, the movie Selma had just been released and I think it helped make the attendance to the Freedom Train larger than in previous years. The Freedom Train commemorated the civil rights march in 1965 for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. It was a very happy and diverse crowd. I hope they eventually revive the Freedom Train for future generations to learn about the civil rights movement
In 2011 I attended several of the local Occupy Wall Street protests in the southern San Francisco Bay Area. I went to the Occupy San Jose, the Occupy Mountain View and Occupy Palo Alto sites and protests and talked to people from all walks of life who were worried about the growing economic inequality in our country.
For the past several years I’ve been going to May Day marches in San Jose to support immigrant rights. They draw large crowds and give hope and encouragement to immigrants who are an important part of our society. These people were willing to risk so much to be American. That was inspirational to me.
A great definition of what an American is by artist and activist Favianna Rodriguez