Love Letter to America
I sat down to write you a breakup letter. But I can’t tell if I want to break up with you, or if you have already broken up with me. Does this election mean that we are going through a rough period, or that we are fundamentally incompatible? Do we as a nation need therapy, a divorce lawyer, or a restraining order? Should we just call a babysitter and go see a movie?
Or is it time for us to call it quits and start seeing other people? I have to admit, I’ve always had a thing for Canada.
I am mad at you and disappointed in us, America. I am still processing the fact that while you say you love me, you have jumped into bed with Donald Trump, a man who openly insults women, blacks, Muslims, Mexicans, people with disabilities, and basic principles of civility and civil liberties. On November 9, I woke up and realized that I didn’t know the country I thought I married. I felt like I had shared my deepest hopes and fears with you, and in return, you had punched me in the gut, spat in my face, and were ready to throw me out on the street.
This election has not brought out the best in us.
I know, you are going to call me ungrateful. After all, my parents came as immigrants from a war-torn country and you welcomed us—tired, poor, hungry, and huddled. You turned us into doctors, lawyers, artists, people who can speak and vote and stand up for what we believe in! We are now Made in America—but you still do not fully own us as part of the family. We don’t quite fit the image you have of yourself, and you still have such a hard time with that. We have stretched the way you look, talk, worship, dress, dance, and eat (and even though we have improved your palate immeasurably, at the end of the day, you just want your meat and potatoes—with ketchup, not Sriracha).
I’m getting a little confused writing this: who do I mean by “you” and who do I mean by “us”? Does “you” mean Red State, Republican, rural, non-college educated, racist, sexist, anti-queer, xenophobic, neo-Nazi, white supremacist Neanderthals? Does “us” mean Blue State, Democrat, urban, suburban, college-educated, liberal, elitist, nearing enlightenment do-gooders?
Is the dividing line those who voted for Trump and those who didn’t? If so, what happens when “we” lump all of “you” together, and you do the same to us? What is left if only one of us wins, and the winner takes all: the house, the car, the pension, the wedding pictures, the college friends? And the kids, what about the kids? We shouldn’t just stay together for their sake—or should we?
It seems like we don’t know who we are and what we want from each other anymore, or maybe we never really did. We manufactured this big, beautiful, poetic dream of a more perfect union, and it feels like we are on the verge of falling apart.
But I am still in love with you, you crazy, magnificent, flawed idea of a country, you. And I think, deep down, you still love me, too. It’s just your fear of commitment to a truly equal, free, and democratic relationship that is making you say and do mean things right now. This makes me feel unloved and want to cry sometimes, but I know it is because you too are feeling hurt and confused. We can talk about it.
I know I haven’t appreciated enough how hard you work, how firmly you believe in your principles, how tired you are of not getting respect, and how insecure you feel about the future. I know I have also felt like you don’t listen to me and take me for granted, and I hate to have to say this, but you scare me sometimes. You do seem to have some anger management issues that you need to work through.
Am I kidding myself that we can work this out? Is this the self-delusion too often seen in dysfunctional, abusive relationships, or is this true love? Metaphors can be tricky, especially when people get hurt, so I proceed with this one very cautiously.
We need to recognize the danger signs that we are at high risk for some form of national domestic violence. And just as licensed marriage and family counselors know that prevention is much more effective than trying to stop harm once it has escalated, we need to intervene before things get out of control. I’m not sure exactly how this intervention looks, but we—meaning everyone with a stake in keeping us together—need to get immediate and intensive training in conflict resolution, public education, knowing our rights and the rights of others, being active bystanders, and when necessary, martial arts.
We can get through this, but both of us are going to have to change. We are going to have to work harder than we ever imagined.
I remember all our road trips together, where we drove from Hollywood, to Little Saigon, to Brownsville, to Standing Rock, to Ferguson, to Hershey, PA, from Yosemite to the Everglades, from the Golden Gate to the Brooklyn Bridge, from the Lincoln Memorial to the National Museum of African American History, from the Superdome to the Ninth Ward, from Angel Island to Ellis Island.
Who else can contain such multitudes?
I can’t break up with you because I am you. Nor will I let you break up with me.
Yours truly. With love.
Miliann Kang is Associate Professor of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies and Director of Diversity Advancements for the College of Humanities and Fine Arts at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her book, The Managed Hand: Race, Gender and the Body in Beauty Service Work won book awards from the National Women’s Studies Association and the American Sociological Association. Her current research is on Asian American women and the racial politics of mothering, for which she received an American Association of University Women American Fellowship. Her writing has been published in Gender and Society, Contexts, Newsweek,