In the days following the election, I felt like I was watching some kind of crazy TV drama every time I checked the news or walked across campus. I heard about elementary school kids telling their Hispanic, Latinx, and Middle Eastern classmates horrible things, I saw videos of people getting beaten in the streets over who they voted for, I watched protesters take to the streets bearing signs that were aggressive, personal attacks against Melania Trump and others who really had nothing to do with the election or why these people were angry. I saw so much hate and fear that it really started to affect me in a way that I didn’t expect. I was among those who were scared by our country’s choice of a leader. I fear for myself and for those I care about who fall into the groups whose rights our president elect has threatened. But honestly, I’m more scared of the people walking down the street than I am of any upcoming legislation. I’m scared of the person who would rip a hijab off of a woman’s head in a grocery store and tell her to hang herself with it. I’m scared of the parents who teach their children that it’s okay to tell their classmates that Trump will send them back to Mexico. I’m scared of anyone who would physically attack others over a difference in political opinions.
I’ve seen so many people take their fear and anger and use it to justify treating others in horrible ways. It’s a mistake that humanity has made again and again throughout history, and it has never ended well. I get why people are scared, some fear the loss of their rights, others fear the current economic conditions, and others simply fear the uncertainty of the current state of the world. But none of this justifies treating others as less than human. These displays of hatred scare me more than anything else right now – more than the economy, the loss of my rights, or the state of the world. They encourage the same fear and hatred in others; they generate a cycle of choices and behaviors that will not fix anything. It won’t fix any of the sources of fear, and it won’t make the world a better place. It only hurts people.
I know there is a lot more behind these events and in peoples’ lives than what I’ve talked about here, but this is what I’ve seen around me over the course of the last couple weeks. I’m only aiming to understand and express my own feelings about these events.
I went to the opening performance of Who Am I to support my friend who was acting in it. As it turned out, that was the first time the play was ever performed on stage, and it was adapted by an OU professor from a novel. The plot was based on a mixture of Alice in Wonderland and Baba Yaga (a character from Slavic folklore), and it was completely absurdist. The combination of these two stories created an extremely chaotic and confusing storyline. Despite this, it was interesting how easily the two tales combined with the author’s (Dubravka Ugresic) own plot to create an interesting (although often baffling) story. The play raised many questions, especially relating to the nature of identity (who AM I?) without offering any solid answers. It left everyone in the audience laughing, but also considering deep questions about how we perceive ourselves and each other. During the talk back with the cast after the performance, audience members began asking the cast what answers they had come up with in response to these open questions. However, the cast gave very little away. Instead they urged the audience members to come up with their own answers – which, I think, was the entire point of both the play and the novel that it is based on. Identity is a universal source of questions. Everyone wonders about what defines them, what makes them who they are, and who they actually are. But there are no easy answers in life, so how can the play (or the novel) offer any easy answers either? We are all left to find our own answers both in the play and in real life. We can consult our friends and family and anyone else we like, but ultimately it is up to each of us to determine our own answers to those questions.
Last month I had the chance to see the group iDebate Rwanda hold a debate on OU campus about whether justice or forgiveness was more important in the wake of the Rwandan Genocide. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to hear the debate team speak to my perspectives class earlier that morning, and the background really helped me understand the ideas and feelings behind this debate. The Rwandan genocide happened before I was born, and before any of the debaters was born, so their perspective on the genocide is one from growing up in the aftermath. They told stories about loved ones they never met who died in the tragedy, and they described growing up not wanting to know which “ethnic” group they belonged to because it meant being labeled as either a victim or a perpetrator. Their stories really highlighted some of the worst effects of colonization – which was a direct catalyst to the genocide – while also highlighting how international relations can be both beneficial and harmful, especially in the wake of such a tragedy.
The debate itself was extremely heated, with each side refusing to give the other any ground, but in the end even those debating in favor of the less popular side (that justice was more important than forgiveness) agreed that forgiveness was the most important thing to focus on in the wake of the genocide. It was hard to disagree with the debaters who supported that argument: Forgiveness brings closure and starts healing better than justice ever can, and in doing so it allows both sides to focus on rebuilding instead of on resenting each other. Somehow looking back on that debate in light of the current political climate, that argument seems especially relevant.
I had a great time carving pumpkins the week of Halloween with my OU cousin! I learned last year from my previous cousin Emma that pumpkins really don’t grow well outside of North America, so most international students have never even seen a pumpkin that would look “average” to an American. Pumpkin pies really don’t exist outside of the US, and jack-o-lanterns certainly don’t (the few pumpkins that do grow can’t handle being carved out). So it was really cool getting to help my cousin Nok carve a pumpkin for her apartment. It has been a few years since I’ve carved one myself, so it was a refresher for me too. Nok was surprised by how big and heavy the pumpkins were – she’d only ever seen relatively small ones before – and the amount of “guts” inside the pumpkin really caught us both off guard. We both dove into it anyway, and soon we were both scraping seeds out of the pumpkin with our bare hands. We got really messy, ate some candy, and managed to create a very respectable, smiling jack-o-lantern with hearts on its cheeks (Nok’s personal touch).
It was a great opportunity to talk to Nok a bit and get to know her better. As a student from Thailand who is a “permanent” international student at a Japanese university, Nok is by far the most well-traveled person I’ve ever met. She’s been to a dozen countries across Asia and Europe, and is working toward a degree in international relations with an emphasis on the Middle East (which was part of her motivation to come to OU, as her home university offered only a few courses relating to the Middle East). Her perspective on international events is really interesting, and her fluency in three languages is really making me feel like I need to brush up on my barely-conversational Spanish.