“America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.
America two dollars and twenty-seven cents January 17, 1956.
I can’t stand my own mind.
America when will we end the human war?” – Allen Ginsberg, 1956
This time last year, I had been living in Columbus, Georgia for four weeks. I was travelling as a student with a J1 Visa, who’d touched down in Philadelphia and immediately felt some semblance of home on a foreign continent. The warm welcome I received at Atlanta airport later that day seemed to set a tone for my seven-month stay, for the duration of which I felt at ease and integrated in a society so far away from my own in the UK. I felt like America had opened its arms to me, and I felt a comfortable embrace the touch of which extended throughout my trip. I arrived back in the UK in August, and since then have been a shocked spectator to the turbulent politics of the past seven months. I have watched what I initially considered to be an impossibility become a reality, and I have watched as the rest of the world shook their collective heads, wanting to shake my own while knowing better. America has changed over the last twelve months, but only on a political level. On a human level, I think America is still the country that I remember, cracks exposed, but with the strength to fix itself.
So I mean it from the bottom of my heart – which still carries shades of Georgia – when I write that the America I see represented by president Donald Trump is not my version of America, and nor shall it ever be such. When I recall America I think of positive people, doing positive things for their fellow people, and when I say ‘people’ I mean people as not only limited to the American people. I think of the welcome which I saw extended not just to myself, but to those who had travelled further than I had, from countries which represented a far greater divide than that displayed between the United States and the United Kingdom. In a way, myself and my American classmates weren’t too different. We spoke the same language, communicated in the same way, recognised shared traits of the two cultures, and as such my experience abroad was akin to a pleasant holiday in a somewhat familiar climate. My American classmates and my Indian classmates were different, but that divide was never the divide which Trump now encouraged. I witnessed my fellow international students treated with respect, and with a fair sense of equality. I watched students who spoke little to no English be invited to play basketball, or to barbeques, in an attempt to make them feel welcome. I witnessed arms being opened, instead of doors being shut. This is the America I choose to remember, and this is the America I know to still exist.
When I think of those I met while in America I think of the students from Mexico who offered me a place to sleep for a few nights when my university lease expired. I think of the man from Lebanon who hosted me in Seattle, and who sat and spoke with me about my travels before drawing a map of the local area in order to highlight bus stops and subway stations. I think of the homosexual from Israel who told me about how he had fled from his family because they did not approve of his sexuality, and who had then subsequently found a home amongst likeminded individuals in the middle of Brooklyn. I think of every open-minded, conscientious citizen I came across on my way, from New Orleans to Seattle, from New York to San Francisco. I think of those who openly criticized the policies of Donald Trump, and who were entirely justified in doing so. I think of the foreign Buddhists I met in a bar in Chicago, who spoke of the worlds evils, but who also found a great deal of peace in the good they saw in their fellow man. I think of the immigrant family who gave me a metro card on the New York subway because they had already reached their destination, and who had seen me struggling with my giant suitcase. I think of those who opened doors, instead of those who closed them. Therefore, when I think of America I think of decency, diversity and overall, equality. I think of people who, like me, wanted to move to America, and who were then warmly welcomed by citizens who were correctly indifferent to their race, gender, sexuality or nationality. I now consider this welcoming nature to be fundamentally American – I think of its goodness. I think of decent people, and these people form the larger version of America which I now hold to be the true authority, the true image of what the country then comes to mean.
America, I am with you. An entire country is not defined by its president, especially when said president is not the chosen president of the voting majority. I am with those who recognise lying, misogyny, bullying, racism and sexism as negative traits, and I am with those who refuse to tolerate such behaviour from a person in power. I am with the kind-hearted people, the just and the humanitarian, who stand up for what they believe in, even when they feel their voices may not be heard by those in the White House. I am with those who believe that gender and sexuality are not fixed, and nor are they open to condemnation or the outside influence of others. I am with those who believe in climate change, and who will take steps to speak of its validity, and the danger it presents. I am with those who believe in abortion as a woman’s choice. I am with those who recognise it as intrinsically wrong to ‘grab a woman by the pussy.’ I am with those who open doors, and I am against those who close them. I am with those who stood outside the same Atlanta airport I flew into last year, and earlier this week displayed banners stating ‘refugees welcome.’ I support and congratulate those people, absolutely.
I am with America. At least, I am with my version of America – which is know is a fair and accurate representation of the country. When I read the news, I do not think ill of the US, I think ill of those who seek to rule with hatred and with their own conflated ideas of what constitutes modern ‘greatness.’ Americans with whom I side, you are not alone, and nor should you feel as if you are. When I read the news I am disheartened by politics, but immensely heartened by those who continue to uphold what I consider to be the heart of all things 21st century American. I encourage you to continue to make your voices heard, to protest in peace, and to be angry at those who base their decisions on unjustified anger. America, you have every right to be angry, and I am glad that you are. I commend you wholeheartedly for that. From across the Atlantic, you have my love, and you have my support.