In 2004, like many Americans, I was thrilled to cast a vote in my first election just a few months after turning 18 years old. The only difference between me and all of my fellow college students that year was the fact that I had only been an American citizen for a couple of years. Still, I was proud to do my civic duty for this country my family now called home.
In 2016, after over a decade of continuing to vote in every election, my heart was broken as many Americans chose a president who began his campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists” and saying that they’re bringing drugs and crime when they come to America in search of a better life, just as my Cuban family did.
And in 2020, I have come to the realization that it’s not my heart that is broken. It’s America.
After five days of uncertainly, Joseph Robinette Biden became the President-elect of the United States of America. I don’t want to downplay this historic moment. Presidents rarely lose re-election campaigns, as Trump has. And, of course, my heart rejoices for Madam Vice President-elect Kamala Devi Harris. Not only is she the first woman to hold the second highest elected office in the land but she is also a Black woman and a daughter of immigrants. I couldn’t be prouder of this historic moment.
Yet in the back of my mind, there is still a really big “But…”
It’s not my heart that is broken. It’s America.
Because despite all of the celebrating (and trust me, I’m celebrating!), I am also hurting for what has been a contentious election that has revealed that, deep down, the deep partisan divide in America remains. Biden has over 4 million more of the popular vote and is likely to end up with 7 million more votes than Trump; after all, Hillary Clinton had almost 3 million more votes than Trump in the last presidential election. But America doesn’t run on who got the most votes. It runs on the Electoral College — a system I have come to understand as rooted in racism. And this system scares me. As an immigrant and as a new mother, what is happening in America today has terrified me.
As someone who had her first child just a few weeks into a global pandemic, I am no stranger to the feeling of terror. But as the months of this all-around crappy year wore on and as President Trump fumbled on the basic task of keeping Americans alive (as of now, 235,000 people have died in the U.S. due to COVID-19), I began to have hope in the country again.
Biden wasn’t necessarily my first choice for a presidential candidate, but he seems like a good guy who could do a good job. Clearly, he’s got the experience. And polls showed him ahead in many states, including my home state of Florida. Before Election Night, I began to get excited that we might actually have a true Blue Wave — a sweeping victory for Democrats and what I felt was a much-needed referendum against a party that divides the country, that aims to control women’s bodies, that locks children up in cages, that doesn’t fairly tax the rich, that proved themselves to be hypocrites when it came to the Supreme Court nomination last month.
But that’s not what happened on Election Night. Quickly enough, Florida went red. I, as a Cuban-American myself, became horrified when many news channels pointed to Trump’s gains with the Miami-Dade Latinx community as one of the top reasons he won the state again. I couldn’t, and I still can’t, understand how my own community can vote for someone who says the vilest things against people like us. I can’t understand how my own father is a Trump supporter.
My heart constantly aches for those children in cages — those families who have been separated for over two years. I’m pained with the realization that, had this happened in 1994 when my own family came to the U.S., I myself would have been one of those children. Perhaps I would have even been one of the 545 kids whose parents have gone missing. Would my dad have supported Trump then? Would he, like so many Cubans, be so afraid of socialism that he would still vote for the man that took away his daughter?
On Wednesday morning, I woke up with a sense of dread and the realization that this is not the country that I thought it was.
Would he, like so many Cubans, be so afraid of socialism that he would still vote for the man that took away his daughter?
Seeing the protests over the killing of George Floyd this past summer, I began to have hope. I thought that we might finally have change. I thought that this country would finally face its racist past and do better in the future. But that’s not what happened. As I realized this week, we are a country deeply, vehemently divided. Probably forever. To wake up the day after the election and realized that millions and millions of people still voted to re-elect the current president, I know that we are broken. All of us, one by one, broken.
Sure, this year may go down in history as the highest voter turnout America has ever seen. But for what? Not to say a big “BYE BYE!” to a president who actively lies and cheats to the American people and otherwise seems to only want to serve his own self-interest. No, we came out in droves to fight and continue to be divided.
Although Biden’s message throughout his campaign was about bringing normalcy back to the White House and uniting this country again, I honestly don’t know if he can. When almost half of the electorate comes out to vote for someone who mocks the disabled, actively brags about sexual assault, makes friends with dictators, and many, many other despicable things, this is not a divide that can be met by suddenly having a reasonable president.
When a president demands that legally cast votes stop being counted (because the new votes will likely favor his opponent) and his followers listen to him and protest, that is not okay. I know we’ve heard this time and again for the past four years but let me say it again: NONE OF THIS IS OKAY. Even worse, the 2020 election has proven that none of this is going to go away any time soon. As I saw someone state after Biden was officially declared the winner: Trump may have lost, but Trumpism is here to stay.
When I had my baby boy earlier this year, I proudly gave him a Spanish name and vowed to raise him knowing his Latino roots. And while I still plan to do that, I now also fear for what this will mean and how I will teach him about growing up in a country that is so divided.
I want so much to raise my son to be a kind, loving person. But what will I say to him when he asks me why so many others chose to not be kind and loving? Why so many people chose to instead embrace hate?
I know that not every person who voted for Trump is hateful at heart. But at the very least, they don’t care enough about others to vote for someone who isn’t going to take away their basic human rights of bodily autonomy or marrying whomever they love. And that’s what ultimately makes me believe that the country I have called home for the past 26 years is a heartbreakingly broken America.
I don’t know when we will get out of this. Honestly, I don’t know if we can. After all this, and I mean ALL of this, how are we not much better off than we were four years ago? I’m terrified for my son and the world I have brought him into. What will happen if he one day grows up to fall in love with another man or realize that he is actually a she? What will happen if one day he wakes up to cops knocking on his door and ultimately killing the woman lying next to him because she’s Black? Or what if he has a Black child and that child is killed by cops because he’s wearing a hoodie or carrying a cell phone?
These are not stories. These are things that are happening — and will keep happening — so long as America remains as divided as we are today. Listening to Harris and Biden speak on Saturday night, I felt a twinge of hope again. I remembered what it was like to have a president that actually believes in the American people and in the America that provides opportunity for all.
Still, I wish that this election had gone better for those of us who believe in kindness and fairness and human decency; that a landslide victory had clearly told Trumpists that their rhetoric and way of governing is no longer cool with the American people. I wish that I wasn’t so sad for America, so scared for my son. I wish so many things. But mostly, I wish that the American Dream wasn’t dead for me. But I just can’t reconcile the illusion of the Land of Opportunity with what it has actually become: A partisan nightmare.
Maybe 2021 will begin a new era of hope in America. Maybe Biden will truly be able to unite the country and get a republican-controlled Senate (which it will likely be) to work with him and not against him. Maybe things will turn out okay and Trump will fade into the background of history, and we’ll continue the good fight. Maybe my faith in the American Dream will even be restored. But that’s a lot of maybes. And if there is one thing that 2020 has taught me is that things can always get worse. Here’s hoping 2021 proves me wrong.