On a sunny Badger football Saturday a few weekends ago, my nephew and I heard a loud rumble from above and looked up to the sky to see what was disrupting the sweet, sweet melody of On Wisconsin. Within seconds, a low flying airplane flew into view, waving a banner behind it with pride.
WI Chinese Americans For Trump
I read the sign to myself and thought, Mmmmm. Is that really representative of all Chinese Americans in Wisconsin? Or is it more like, That One Chinese American That Spent Money on an Airplane Banner is For Trump?
My nephew read the sign out loud and thought, Chinese Americans For Trump (The End).
I know he is 9 and I am 35, but it really doesn’t matter how old you are. This is how many people, regardless of age, absorb and process information.
With the uninvited election now on the discussion table, my nephew promptly asked what I hoped he wouldn’t. Who are you voting for? Which somehow means something entirely different when a nine year old child asks. It’s worth noting we were also standing with his dad (my brother), someone usually more aligned with the Republican Party. They live in my central Wisconsin hometown and I have no idea what my nephew has heard in school, what his father has communicated, what conclusions he has already drawn in his own little head. So I hesitated. They were visiting Madison for the Wisconsin vs Nebraska game and it was such a beautiful day. I didn’t want to mar it with a political discussion or be seen as the Opponent in my nephew’s eyes, especially when my life goal is to get my niece and nephew to love me so much, they fight over who gets to take care of Crazy Aunt Tosha when I’m old and senile (which I will pretend to be, if only to fart loudly in public, finally).
Afterward I couldn’t help but think maybe I should have said something. I mean, this is a kid who literally stopped mid-present-rip-opening last Christmas and got real pensive and sad for all of the kids who had no presents to rip open, while simultaneously expressing how presents weren’t actually the important thing, but having food and shelter and being with family were what mattered most. If any kid could handle this heavily weighted topic, this was the kid. Maybe I should have said something so he could see how grown ups can disagree, but still love and treat each other with respect, like my brother and I do (most of the time…we have our moments). But instead I told him voting is sometimes a private thing, and gently guided the conversation to something else.
The truth is, I didn’t want to talk about it because I didn’t want to know who my brother was voting for. My nephew is a great kid and I can’t wait to see what kind of outstanding adult he becomes. And he’s being raised by a fine pair of adults, regardless of who they choose to vote for in this election. He’s actually lucky to have people in his life who don’t all think exactly the same, because that’s the most natural way to learn about difference, tolerance, acceptance.
As some of you witnessed, my last two posts inspired a not so unexpected Facebook war with my very own mother. She comments on everything I write, so I’d be lying if I said I didn’t know this was coming. As one of my co-workers observed the interaction, a mother with daughters of her own, concerned I was damaging an important relationship, she called me immediately and said, Tosha, STOP IT, THAT IS YOUR MOTHER.
She sure is. And despite what some might conclude after reading that Facebook exchange, my mom is good people too. Though I feared it, I wasn’t totally convinced she’d even vote for Trump; her Catholicism means a lot to her and she struggled with Romney (a totally respectable legit human that I respect even more now that he continues to refuse to support Trump) because he is Mormon. I thought surely she’d struggle with All That is Trump, who virtually has no religion or respect for it, but I was wrong. And I still don’t know who my dad is voting for, and I DO NOT WANT TO, MOM.
Growing up, all of us kids were expected to follow the rules of the house, which at the time seemed like a lot, but basically boiled down to: respect your parents, pull your weight, and don’t you ever use the Lord’s name in vain. They didn’t go to church every Sunday to confess their sins and feel like a good person again for doing so. They simply chose, much more efficiently, just to be good people. As a child, I watched my dad give to families less fortunate than our own, though many people may have easily looked at our family and considered us part of the “less fortunate” bunch. I remember buying presents for names on a tree, holding these wish gifts in my hands. I remember packing up giant boxes with normal things most of us take for granted, like toilet paper and personal hygiene items and food. I remember driving these boxes to members of my very own family.
One of the walls in our cramped house was covered in handmade tapestries, gifts from my dad’s co-workers, each one telling a story of the plight of the Hmong people. Their beautiful handmade ornaments hung from our tree, right next to baby Jesus, a snowman, and my first grade picture glued to a crappy piece of construction paper, sort of resembling a star. Though they might regret it now, they never pushed their own political or religious beliefs on any of us kids and as a result, I was raised to have an open mind, to understand difference, believe in acceptance, and teach tolerance. They led by example, the classic Show, Don’t Tell method. No matter how they vote, they are not bad people.
When I moved to Madison for college, I remember my mom disliking the city because it was too liberal and she worried it would turn me into a liberal too. I didn’t even fully understand what that word meant then, but it sounded like an insult. Today, I can understand her concern a little better. But this city didn’t turn me into anything. It exposed me to different cultures, viewpoints, ideas. It introduced me to new people with multiple religious beliefs and lifestyles. It gave me an opportunity to get to know those different from myself, discuss controversial topics intelligently, and celebrate progress. It helped me understand the world was bigger than the small town I grew up in, bigger than me and my wants and needs. It inspired me to travel, see what else the people of the world had to say.
A wise man (my dad) once told me no candidate is ever going to fully represent who you are; each election you need to fully evaluate both platforms and decide what matters most to you. The first time I voted Democrat, America was still deciding whether or not gay people were actually people at all, still deciding whether they deserved the same basic human rights as straight people. There was only one vote I could cast that meant I believed some of my closest lifelong friends deserved equal rights, that they deserved to love whomever they chose, that yes, they were people too.
Today, there is only one vote that I can cast that shows respect for ALL people regardless of their religion, their color of skin, their baby-making bits, their ranking on someone else’s scale of attraction, or whom they love with all of their heart. That is what matters most to me: human decency and a general respect for all people.
Regardless of what happens today, of which ballot box you check, we could all stand to take a step back and remember our that neighbors may be Democrats or Republicans, Catholic, Muslim, gay, straight, black, white, prefer Miracle Whip (obvi) over Mayonnaise. But they are also people. Actual human people. My mom voted Trump, but she’s still my mother, and I still love her, even if I can’t find one iota of logic in her reasoning. Because no matter which man or woman is sitting in the oval office, life will go on, and as long as we speak up, we will always have a voice. If your candidate wins, don’t gloat, don’t point fingers, don’t draw the line in the sand even deeper. The Us vs Them mentality is what got us here in the first place.
People say how saddened they are how this election has divided us as a nation. Divided families, marriages, friendships. Don’t kid yourself. This election didn’t do that. Our core beliefs, our core values, what matters most to each of us did that. When this election is over, those values, those beliefs, they won’t just disappear.
Don’t let politics define who you are as a person. Let who you are as a person help define politics.
And hey, you know, be a good person.