A week before US President Donald Trump took over the White House in January, I arrived in America. I was flying from Milan with connecting flights in Lisbon and New York, and I just finished writing the 10-page exam that sealed my first semester at Aarhus University in Denmark. I remember, all I wanted to do when I landed in my final destination was sleep for 24 hours after dragging my luggages in different airports. But after -7 degree Celsius Milano, San Francisco’s 16 degrees that day was literally a warm welcome.
I arrived in the middle of a divided America.
January was a time of heightened emotions linked to the spectacle that is US politics. Most of the friends I met with were strongly against Trump and everything that he represents. There were those too who wanted to believe in his policies but are aware of the quality of his tweets. The distress is so deep that even in an article about acupuncture that I was writing, reference to Trump-induced stress came about. In my interviews, entrepreneurs, artists, and politicians I spoke with have expressed disapproval over his decisions such as the travel ban on Muslim-majority countries and the building of a wall between the US and Mexico. One of my friends who works in a school said kids from immigrant families were visibly afraid and asked their teachers about their safety and future; and during the Day Without Immigrants protest, about 70 percent of the students did not come to school. When I returned to Manila a month ago, I was talking to an Italian friend about my stay in the US and told him how the people I know reacted to his presidency. Well, the Americans voted for him, he said at one point. The problem is, many of them didn’t. And the bigger problem is that the US is a giant stakeholder in world affairs given the size of its economy and military powers, and it is something that the rest of the world should not ignore just because it is an American affair.
In my conversations with friends here at home though, I also point out how beautiful California is despite the ugly political backdrop, and I dream of visiting Berkeley again someday.
Now whenever I hear Filipinos talk about America I wonder: are we talking of Trump’s white, Republican, anti-immigration, anti-globalization America that cares only about itself? The diverse, multicultural America that the immigrants built? The concept of America as a hegemonic power? Or the America that we imagine out of the too many Hollywood movies and TV series we’ve been consuming?
To me at the moment, “America” brings memories of my stay in Berkeley and Albany, where I met lovely people who believe in good coffee and climate change.