Since the end of the election and the beginning of the Donald Trump presidential era I feel that great distancing and a large cultural and political fissure has been established where once there was only a crack. As an American of Mexican descent, I am finding hard to reconcile what I believed about the innate goodness of Americans and the reality of what just happened. We have elected a president who has vomited such racially charged language against people like me and my family that it is impossible for me to let go and accept our new reality. For the last couple days I have been walking around in a fog, dazed, confused and constantly sad.
As a Mexican American I feel like I've been sucker punched by a trusted friend and that my experience as an American has been soiled and branded as illegitimate. If once we were invisible and marginalized as secondary citizens, today we are rapists and foreigners. I try not to look people in the eye because, as the election results show, they may have voted for Trump. They may actually believe that we are all rapists.
Maybe I have been naive all this time. I know that there were some people out there that were hateful and that would defend racism. I refused to believe, however, that there was a silent majority of people who would accept hate speech as acceptable from an American president. Surely we would all come together and show that candidate that we Americans are better than that. I was wrong.
About two years ago I was waiting to get a haircut at my barber's in downtown Turlock. An older Mexican man (now dead), probably in his late 70s, sat getting his hair cut while the barber joked in English with the rest of the waiting customers. I can't remember how it happened but the older man and I started talking in Spanish about nothing in particular. As we spoke I could feel that two other older white men who had also been waiting and who had been joking around with the barber, were becoming uncomfortable with us speaking Spanish. It will be hard to understand but as a Mexican American you become sensitive to white people’s angst and their level of comfort to the point of paranoia. You start thinking that you are going crazy and that you are being overly sensitive. I deduced that there was no way that this conversation between a 70-year-old man and I could possible threaten the two waiting men. They got quiet. Then one shouted “Can you not speak Spanish! I feel that you could be talking about me!” I turned to look at him. I turned back and continued speaking. I thought I heard something, but, no, there is no way. “Stop speaking Spanish,” he repeated. “No, I won’t,” I said turning towards him, trying not to shout, trying not to become the angry Mexican, the violent rapist. “Why don’t you go back to where you're from and speak Spanish there,” he added with what seemed to me like anger, but that to him may have seemed like a greeting or a salutation. I couldn’t think of what to say in that moment of shock. Finally I asked him a question. “What have you done? What have you done for this country that you feel you have the right to speak to me that way? I have worked for our government. What have you done? I have worked for Rusty Arias, Margaret E. Snyder, and Gary Condit. I worked in the White House. What have you done for this country? I was born right down the street at Emanuel. I can walk to where I’m from!”
Tired of listening to me, he got up from his folding chair, grabbed his hat from the hat rack, apologized to Santos the barber and walked out. The other man who was sitting and waiting next to him also got up, said that he agreed that we should stop speaking Spanish, excused himself from Santos and also walked out. I don’t remember a word being uttered after that in the Barber shop. We must have said something, but I can’t remember. I’m sure the old Mexican man got up from the barber's chair, paid, and probably said something to me, but I’m not sure. I next remember sitting in the barber's chair staring out the window and trying not to cry in front of Santos. He cut my hair and neither of us said a word. What could we say to each other that we did not already know. The moment was too painful to acknowledge.
My wife convinced me and I convinced myself that those two men were an anomaly, the exception; marginal angry people who were finding it hard to cope with the demographic realities of today. They were older white men, I thought, who felt like they were losing control of their environment. I get it. That made them angry. That is how I made it make sense.
But today it doesn’t make sense anymore. I could see how an older part of the population could harbor anger and resentment about the loss of what they thought was their birthright, but not the majority of Americans. Surely the majority of my fellow citizens would come to our defense and not support an obviously racist man for president. I was wrong.
— Armando Mota