One of the toughest parts of my work here is sustainability. The idea that when I leave, my friends and allies still have someone who makes them feel empowered, gives them a space to be themselves, encourages them to keep the work going.
This is especially true in the context of camp GLOW, which is probably my favorite part of my service. We give girls the opportunity to leave their communities, travel to a new place, and spend the week feeling empowered and surrounded by other empowered and empowering people. They arrive at camp timid and leave sassy and determined to affect change in their communities.
But then, so many of them return home only to find that the environment couldn’t be more different from camp. In their own homes, they are actively disempowered. They are faced with machismo culture, from both men and women, so harshly and heavily that what they learned at camp, what they hoped to teach their peers, takes a back seat. What was supposed to be unifying at camp has now become isolating.
They leave camp thinking “I can,” and come home only to be told “You can’t.”
I had never related to their struggle until this week.
On most days, I feel empowered to speak my mind. On most days, I am not afraid to be myself. On most days, I feel safe, knowing that the US has my back. In the past few months, that has been nearly every day. I felt better about myself knowing that people around me were going to help me elect the first female president. I felt less alone in my “crazy feminist ideology.” I felt like I was seeing what I teach here in Paraguay being carried out in the U.S. Gender equality was one step closer to feeling real…one step closer to shattering the ceiling.
But this week, I felt like the girls in the campo. This whole election cycle, despite its insanity, has made me feel more empowered and unified in my hope and faith in Hillary Clinton. While Donald Trump’s attempts to knock me (and all women, and all POC, and all immigrants, and all people with disabilities, and all LGBT people, and all Muslim people) down, I took stock in the goodness and love that I found in my liberal bubble — youth, PCVs, my family — and trusted that the racist/sexist/homophobic/islamophobic cheeto would be defeated.
But apparently we were all away at summer camp, while the rest of the U.S. (ok only 49%…) accepted bigotry and hatred.
I am coming back to the states knowing that enough people to decide a presidency do not see me or many of my loved ones as valid human beings who deserve basic human rights.
I have been dealing with a lot of machismo and sexism being thrown my way lately — most recently yesterday when I was waiting for the bus — I was watching Hillary’s concession speech and crying behind my baseball hat and sunglasses when a man drove by me, told me to smile more and threw a carton of juice at my head. So this loss hits me even harder knowing that so many people just threw juice cartons at the heads of every non-white, non-male human in the U.S.
I know that in April I will come home and join the fight and fight harder than I ever have before. But for now, I am so deeply saddened by what happened this week.
I took a walk this morning, after hiding in my house for more than 24 hours, and felt weak, carrying the burden of being the Token White Person in my community — “How did he win?” “Is everyone in the U.S. racist?” “Will I ever be able to visit my sister again?” “Is he going to get rid of Peace Corps?” are just some of the questions I’ve been asked so far today. Being an ambassador of the U.S. is hard enough…this makes it near impossible.
I know when I go home I won’t really feel like a Paraguayan girl post-camp. I know I am more privileged than that — I will be surrounded by allies; I am privileged enough that this presidency likely won’t impact my day-to-day. I am, theoretically, one of the lucky ones (not nearly as lucky as white straight men but luckier than most).
In feeling absolutely terrible, literally sick, I have been playing my most recent conversation with my dad over and over in my head. He kept it together on election night to talk to his kids about how we’re going to be ok, how he is on our side, and how we should feel empowered to get out there and advocate and fight for change. He took our hysterics (ok that was probably just me) and helped us to remember that we aren’t lame ducks and that we are probably now more needed than ever. (Although I hope he knows we’re never gonna make any money…)
It made me feel incredibly grateful for having an ally in my house. For having someone who understands how much this election hurt me personally. As much as I love my Girl Gang and talking about these issues among my peers, hearing these words coming from someone who could easily NOT relate, NOT understand, and NOT give a shit (not as my dad but as a white dude) made me feel so fucking lucky. I am so grateful not to live in a house divided by political ideology.
I hope other white men like my dad speak up and tell their daughters that they aren’t alone. Tell their sons that they need to step up to the advocacy plate. I hope for a culture of change and for the most privileged among us to help the less-so.
I hope that this wave of anger and hurt and passionate activism is sustainable, like a good Peace Corps project, and that in the face on the most severe adversity we may have ever seen, we don’t fall in line and become complacent.
I hope summer camp lasts year round.