There are a few reasons why I’ll never fit in with conservatives. Anti-abortion doesn’t mean pro-life, people shouldn’t be denied services and rights based on sexual orientation, and whoever said “take our country back” in the 2016 election knew next to nothing about Native American history. But no matter where individual conservatives stood on those issues, there was always one thing they could agree on: patriotism.

Until recently, I used to believe that patriotism was synonymous with “America is the greatest country on Earth!” or “America first!” And sentiments like those make me cringe. How can America be the greatest when we’re far behind other countries in intelligence and human rights? How does putting America above everyone else honor God? What can we be proud of?

That clip above was aired before Trump became president. And since we turned into the world’s court jester, my view of patriotism became more and more negative. But then I saw that post-election Black-ish episode where the main character says “I love this country even though it doesn’t always love me.” Then I saw Emmanuel Macron inviting American scientists to France so that they might have the finances and resources to fight climate change. And that’s when it finally hit me:

Patriotism doesn’t mean being competitive so much as it means being loyal. Your country is a lot like your family. You can’t choose where you were born, nor can you choose who raises you until you can take care of yourself. Maybe your relationship has been great, maybe it’s been nothing short of absolute shit. But even if you leave and never see them again, you can’t bring yourself to completely hate them. Why? Because they’ve been part of you for so long.

It’s the same with your country. No matter how it’s treated you, living here has made it a part of who you are. So, America, here’s my message of patriotism to you:

We’ve had an odd love-hate relationship over the years. I never know exactly what you think of me. Sometimes you made me laugh, other times you scared me shitless. And I won’t deny that I’ve envied Europe for its British literature, French sweets, and Norwegian scenery. We haven’t always seen eye-to-eye, and there’ll most likely be many times in the future where we’ll disagree some more. But you’re still a part of me that I can’t ignore. When they wanted better opportunities, my ancestors came to you. I was born and raised here, and thus you’re all I’ve ever known. And while you’ve sometimes made it tempting to leave, the truth is there’s a part of me that can’t bring myself to hate you. Maybe it’s your people, maybe it’s your burgers and chips, or maybe it’s my inner-American tendency to defy logic and reality, I don’t know. And maybe I will leave someday, depending on where God takes me. But the fact of the matter is, I’ve come to love you too much to give up and leave now. I will fight for you, for as long as it takes, because you and your people are worth fighting for.


Moving Forward

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I know writing about politics isn’t my forte. I realize that a lot of the things I’ll say here have been said already. But after two days of thinking, talking to myself (as any self-respecting writer would), and watching people react to the election results, I thought I’d go mad if I didn’t say anything.

Now please keep in mind, what I’m about to say is based on what I believe. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. If we agree, we have something in common. If we don’t, we can both get over it. With that said, here are my thoughts.

Like nearly all of Clinton’s supporters, I was disappointed when I found out the results. Even though I wasn’t her biggest fan, I believed she was our best chance of saying no to a lot of the things Trump advertised in his campaign. For me, the Clinton vs. Trump campaign was never just about Democrats vs. Republicans. The election as a whole certainly started that way, but as time wore on it became much more personal than that for everyone involved. By voting for Clinton, I voted to say yes to feminism, yes to racial diversity, yes to immigration, yes to equality, yes to civil rights, and yes to unconditional love. Again, if you disagree with this decision or the way I viewed my vote, that’s your right.

When Wednesday morning came, the weight of the whole thing didn’t hit me until after I got to work. What does this mean for the future of my friends and family? What does this mean for the school I love that thrives on celebrating diversity and culture? What does this mean for my friends, former classmates, and co-workers who are Latino, African-American, Asian, LGBTQ, or disabled? What does this mean for the people who moved here from different countries that decided they liked America enough to stay? What does this mean for my friends who were harassed and/or raped? What does this mean for our future generations?

As the day unfolded and our sadness turned to anger, it seemed like everything went from bad to worse. Say what you will about the reactions from both sides of the argument, but frankly I found neither of them hopeful or encouraging. While some Clinton supporters burned American flags and swore to leave, some Trump supporters ripped a hijab away from a Muslim woman without warning or consent and put a sign on a gay couple’s car reading “I look forward to seeing your marriage dissolve, #Godbless.” And at the time I’m writing this, it’s only the end of Day 2.

I won’t lie, I’m still tired. I’m still sad. I’m still angry. I’m still disappointed. But as an American citizen who wants to see a better world for everyone, giving up is a luxury we can’t afford. Obama, Clinton, Sanders, and other government officials have all promised to keep working to make America a better country than the one we woke up to just a few days ago. And even if they won’t, we still can. It starts with us as individuals and groups promising to do our part to make the world a safer place to live in.

With this last thought in mind, I leave you with these things I hope to live by from this point on.

I will control my anger before speaking up. I will harness my sadness and turn it into empathy. I will listen to what you have to say, even if you disagree with me. I will get the facts before I make any judgments. I will admit when I’m wrong. I will define good comedy as a means for spreading joy, not hate. I will offer hugs to anyone who needs one. I will put aside my cowardice to stand with people who need justice. I will try to set an example for my nephew, as well as any children I may have in the future. I will educate myself and stay up-to-date with news around the world. I will show kindness to people of all faiths, genders, and cultural backgrounds in any way I can. I will draw attention to both evil and good so that we may know the difference.

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An Epiphany at Quincy Market

Hello, I’m Leah G. Alfonso. I write so that I may speak.

I recognize that this is a day early, but I won’t have access to my computer tomorrow, so I decided to post this today.

A wise friend of mine from college said that “everyone has problems. America is just more liberal about theirs.” And…yeah, that summarizes my thoughts on America for about eight years or so. My opinions have changed in the last few months, so a day like this—a day celebrating the independence of this country—feels so odd to me. There’s a lot that we haven’t accomplished, and there are many ideals that we need to keep pushing for. But on the other hand, we’re in a much better place now than we were the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, sealed, and delivered.

On the one hand, if we take a look at the centuries that followed American independence, what would we have to be proud of? We’ve stolen land and freedom from the Native Americans. We’ve stolen Africans from their home, took them across the sea, and enslaved them. When they fought for their freedom, we discriminated them and wanted nothing to do with them. We invited people all over the world to come to America and live the so-called “American Dream,” and then cursed them for existing once they got here. How can we call ourselves free when we’re slaves to judgment based on appearance and opinion? How can we call ourselves the United States of America when we can’t stand united on anything? How can we claim that we’re free when we have to live with the guilt that comes from what our ancestors have done and what we’re continuing to do to each other?

Those were the questions I asked myself six months ago when I found myself alone upstairs in Quincy Market, waiting to rendezvous with the rest of my class. As I wrote in my journal and indulged myself with a hot chocolate and small snack, I took a look around. I saw people interacting with one another, people of different backgrounds, ages, and interests. I heard someone playing the piano, and everyone in the market applauding when he finished. I saw people my age laughing and eating together like they knew each other for their whole lives.

And then it hit me: the Revolutionary War wasn’t a means to an end for America. It was a means to a new beginning in ways that even the colonists didn’t understand at the time. And just because we have the potential to make terrible decisions, that doesn’t mean we don’t also have the potential to choose what’s right.

Look at what’s happened since the Revolutionary War. The abolition of slavery. Women’s rights. The Civil Rights movement. Everything that I’ve mentioned and more have all played a huge role in allowing America to change for the better. And while I don’t think that the Revolutionary War made America a better place on its own, I do believe that it helped to make the growth of America possible. Do we still have a long way to go? Of course. We’ve learned to tolerate differences; we’ve still yet to learn to accept them. But does that mean we haven’t made any progress at all? Absolutely not. We’ve become a country made up of different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. We’ve become a country where women are starting to be recognized as individual, independent people with their own ambitions and sets of beliefs. We’ve become a country where it’s possible for an African American to become president of the United States.

And then I got to thinking about the writers I’d been studying in January. Henry David Thoreau. John Greenleaf Whittier. Louisa May Alcott. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Emily Dickenson. Fredrick Douglass. We don’t just study them because they were eloquent with words. We study them because they allowed us to see different sides of the world, to explore ideas that no one thought to touch yet. During my time in Massachusetts, I learned that Thoreau inspired Martin Luther King Jr, the most famous figure in the Civil Rights Movement. And if that’s true, then that means Thoreau played a huge part in creating equal rights for all Americans. I think Thoreau would’ve been proud to see how much his work had been involved in America’s evolution. We may have injustices, but we also have people fighting them. If I can’t take comfort from that, then there are few things from which I can.

Until next time, this is Leah G. Alfonso saying “Happy Independence Day, America. Make the most of it.”

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