There’s a homeless man who collects cans and bottles by my workplace. His right knee is in need of surgery, which causes him to walk with a limp. He is exactly 11 years and 20 days older than me, but he looks like he could be my dad. He has an American flag tied to the side of his cart. I typically run into him on the street corner when I’m leaving my shift to pick my daughter up from school. If I have a few extra minutes to spare, we’ll shoot the shit for a bit, and if I have a few extra dollars, I’ll buy him some lunch. A couple of months ago, I walked out of work to find him visibly upset. “Man, I’m SICK of all these Trump supporters!”, he said to me with a slight crack in his voice.
Before I continue my story, it should be noted that I live in the Bay Area. Oakland, to be exact. We’re so liberal here, we give all the other liberals raging headaches. If you have the nerve to get us started, we won’t shut up about how progressive we are, how enlightened we are, how accepting we are, how open-minded we are, and how truly special we are for being all those things. This is not to say we’ve created some sort of perfect utopia here (far from it, actually), but we’re a community of people who aren’t ashamed to pat ourselves on the back for fighting the good fight. After this past month, I think it’s fair to say that we should also maybe be reflecting on how arrogant we are, because it’s now been proven that with great arrogance, comes great ignorance.
So with that arrogant/ignorant way about me, I rolled my eyes, chuckled under my breath, and simply replied, “HERE?!” He looked me square in the eye and without even the slightest stutter, stated, “Sweetie, they’re EVERYHWERE.” He’s a black man. I’m a brown woman. And in the deepest, darkest pit of my soul, I knew he was right.
On election night, while my husband was at work, I sat alone on my couch, watching the tragic and embarrassing results come through my TV. I hoped for a miracle, and sobbed for my daughter who was sleeping peacefully in the next room. “I can’t wait for Hillary Clinton to be president!”, and, “Did you know Isabella’s dad voted for Hillary, too?”, were some of the last words she had gleefully said before going to bed. I had a whole lot of explaining to do the next morning, and it wasn’t going to be pretty.
I was about 8 or 9 when I first witnessed and started to understand racism on a profound level. My parents had taken my infant sister and I to a local coffee shop for breakfast. Our food came, and somehow there was a mix-up with our order. Our waiter apologized, and then turned to the busser who had made the mistake and called him a “stupid Mexican.” I guess our privileged light skin fooled that waiter, because he clearly was unaware that sitting right in front of him was a “stupid Mexican” family.
I remember two things from that morning. One, I had never been punched in the gut before, but I imagined it was incredibly similar to what I was feeling. And two, my immigrant (and arguably emotionally unstable) father pounding his fist on the table, and telling that waiter that he’d break his legs if he heard him talk like that again. We sat mostly in silence for the rest of our meal, and I couldn’t tell if I felt like crying, or throwing up, or maybe doing both. Before we left, my dad pointed to the busser and told me that he was one of us, he was our people, and it was our job to fight for our people when they could not fight for themselves.
That was nearly 30 years ago, and I can’t help but wonder if I’m raising my child in a world that’s only deceivingly progressed. I wonder how, when, or if she’ll ever make sense of any of this. I wonder if she, too, will feel like crying and throwing up. I wonder how just a few months ago, our society went from telling our kids, our girls, “You can do anything…”, “You can be anything…”, to, “Well, actually…” I wonder if the moms on Instagram who stress the importance of keeping our country’s current events “age-appropriate at home” know how painful it is for moms like me, moms who have no choice but to have these gross and heart wrenching conversations with their children. I wonder if we’ll ever learn.
My family made plans to go to a peaceful protest a few days after the election. My daughter, a typical 5-year old, whined that she didn’t want to go because it might be boring. I knelt down to her level, and reminded her that there were people in our country who were in pain and felt they couldn’t fight for themselves. I told her that those people were our people, that we would fight for them, and that we would fight for us. Here’s to hoping history won’t repeat itself a third time.
Celia Catalino is a photographer who lives in the Bay Area with her husband and hilarious daughter. She is a proud Californian who isn’t interested in ever leaving. You can see her work at celiacatalino.com.