At my very core, I am an idealist. When I was 12, then-Representative Martin Frost came to speak at my middle school. At the time, I was obsessed with helping the homeless and when I heard he was coming, I wrote a letter about how much I wanted to help end homelessness, even offering to talk it out with him. I was very shy, so when I had the opportunity to shake his hand, I timidly handed him the letter and thanked him. I had included my home phone number in the letter and when his staff person called the next day, my mother nearly dropped the phone out of pure shock. I, on the other hand, was delighted that a real live politician was actually willing to talk to an ordinary kid like me. It left a deep impression on me, knowing that one person could speak up and actually be heard, putting them on a path to making the world a better place.
My conversion to Judaism three years ago has only deepened my commitment to social justice. When I found out that Temple Emanu-El has a great tradition of working with clergy of other faiths, I was in awe. When I saw that Temple also does extensive work in a neighborhood that is made up of mostly immigrants and minorities, I was literally brought to tears. President Obama came to Temple in 2013 to highlight my congregation’s efforts to enroll people in newly affordable health insurance made possible by the passage of ObamaCare. I am proud to be part of this community, to be surrounded by people who are living and acting on their Judaism.
The last two weeks have nearly smashed my idealistic views and hopes for my birth country. Waking up on June 12th to find out there was yet another mass shooting, at a gay nightclub no less, was frightening. As details kept coming out, so did the hateful comments. The calls for a ban on Muslim immigrants, inhumane declarations that the people at the club somehow deserved it, the willingness and speed with which the Republican party blamed “lax” border policies scared me. It’s not a big leap to assume that the hatred being spewed will be turned to other groups. In fact, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican presidential candidate, has already called for a wall to be built at the Mexican border and for a mass deportation of illegal immigrants. My mother, a woman who is not easily shaken, has expressed real fear of what might happen under a Trump presidency. That we were both born in the U.S. and are citizens does not assuage our fears because we are Hispanic, one of the “others,” a title that makes us targets.
Now we have Britain leaving the European Union, based on what looks like the rise of nationalism, fueled by a fear that English culture is being diluted and the rejection of immigrants, which is really just fear of the “other.” No one thought this would actually happen and when I checked the news this morning, I actually gasped when I saw that Britain had voted to leave. I hearsd a political consultant describe the results as “Trump-esque,” as the rulebook has been completely thrown out and extreme nationalism seems to be this election year’s theme. We’ve seen this theme before and it never ends well.
Just a few weeks ago, while at the Anti-Defamation League’s National Leadership Summit, I met Congressman Marc Veasey, who represents my district in the House of Representatives. It was like I was 12 again, in awe that I actually met him and not a staff person stand-in. It made me hopeful for this country, even during this circus-like election year. Now, I’m unsure again and I don’t even want to think about what might happen at the polls in November. I hope I’m overreacting. I hope I can look back at this entry and wonder why I thought the ideals that formed the foundation for America would be decimated by one election.
We have made so much progress in America: gay marriage is now legal, a woman can choose to do what she wants with her body (for the most part,) our first African-American president is nearing the end of his second term and so much more, but we also still have much work to do. Please don’t set us back.