I am Puerto Rican, born and raised in the Palestine of the Caribbean — an island that has been passed around for centuries by two colonizing powers. I grew up with a father who believed that the United States was the Garden of Earthly Delights. In his telling, America was a magical Oz where everyone was equal and anything possible. He painted it not just as a country, but as an ideal. I never fully believed it, but that was his mantra.
He gave me two choices when I turned 16 and was deciding where to go to university: Either I got on the plane to America under my own steam, or he would physically put me on the plane. I was part of a generation that was trained to go and prosper in El Norte, always with a belittling of what we had left behind. The United States was better, it did things better and it could never, ever resemble one of our Latin American despots. God forbid it was said to be corrupt.
Well, it turns out that America is not Oz. And, now with Donald Trump, America has its own Leonidas Trujillo, the vain, rouge-wearing bloody dictator of the Dominican Republic. And it also turns out that the yellow brick road my father sent me down led me to an Emerald City desperate to build a wall of rejection and steel against people who speak my mother tongue.
I live in New York City now and I love this place for what it is — raw, abrupt, honest and diverse. But I no longer trust that America is another name for opportunity, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote. For a Hispanic, like me, America has become another name for hate; it’s come to feel like Germany in the early 1930s, the preamble to the horror. It scares me, and, frankly, I think it should scare us all.
I am longer welcome or made to feel particularly safe here. In Trump’s America, to be Hispanic is to be an alien and speaking Spanish is a thing to fear or hide.
The videos that go viral on a regular basis of white Americans viciously insulting Spanish-speaking people infest my social media, but what gets me with each one is the hatred etched in deep grooves on the white interrogators’ faces. They really hate us — and they are being encouraged to express it from on high — and applauded for it in some circles.
The opprobrium against us Latinos coming from Trump’s mouth — bad hombres, rapists, lazy — have been the spark needed to ignite this latent powder keg of racism. And it really doesn’t matter if you are technically a U.S. citizen — just ask any Puerto Rican. It only matters if you speak Spanish, and do not fit the image of what Americans supposedly should look like: white.
An artist friend, Io Carrion, said: “It is no longer the land of the free. You lose your freedom the moment you realize you are being defined and judged by those adjectives” — Latino, brown, alien, illegal.
“The great thing about America was that you could be whoever you wanted. That was the promise,” she added. But it’s not a valid one anymore because Trump and a tiki-torch-carrying white angry mob — “very fine people on both sides” — have entombed the American dream.
Federico Rodriguez, a fellow journalist who now lives in Laos, asked me, “Is it strange that I feel safer in this poor, underdeveloped and undemocratic country” than in America?
“I don’t have to worry about getting shot while watching a movie, going to class or shopping at a mall. I don’t have to fear police abuse, or racism, or xenophobia," he said.
Leaving my home in Puerto Rico was not easy — and I have lived here (off and on) for almost 20 years, am technically a U.S. citizen (although I consider myself a colonial subject) and sacrificed a lot to build a career. So I am far from a shrinking violet: I can more than hold my own and I have no fear at all in speaking my mind. But the racism I experienced before the Trump regime was low level and manageable.
Things have since changed. Now I do not know what might happen if some white American objects to my birthplace, my language or what they feel I look like. Violence against me no longer feels like an unthinkable option here.
After Trump won the 2016 election, I believed that decency and reason would win the day. I now doubt that it will. This country runs on fear and it feels as though the American experiment is coming to an ignominious end. This was not the bill of goods I was sold.
I arrived at my decision with trepidation, after long nights of soul-searching and daily doses of Donald Trump’s insults. It will be a long goodbye — but it will be a goodbye. The time has come for me to leave America.
Are there pangs of resignation in my decision? Yes. Am I doing a Joan Didion “Goodbye to All That”? Maybe. But I want to get out before the deluge; if Trump wins again, things will deteriorate, fast. Yet, sadly, whoever wins, I believe the damage has been done. It is clear to me now what many white Americans think about Hispanics, and none of it is good.
Hispanics should be inextricably part of America, but whatever spaces had been opened in the past have been slammed shut by the racial hatred to which Trump gives carte blanche every time he opens his mouth.
I do not like what I see, it worries me and I do not trust it will get better. What Trump has started, he won’t stop and I don’t think anyone else can. It is time to get the hell out of Dodge.