On Wednesday, at 5:45pm, I was drinking my mom’s honey boba tea, while screaming at the TV. I live ten minutes away from Capitol Hill and close to my parents, the only people besides my husband and sister who I’ve seen since March of last year.
Just two months before, on November 7, I had driven into D.C. and watched the crowds from afar. Usually I stay in the car, watching the gorgeous monuments through closed windows. But that day was different. The Associated Press had called the election. Biden won. The city was screaming with joy.
We blasted “Party in the U.S.A.” and “Happy” from our car’s loudspeakers and kept the windows open. It was a great day. But it was a day soon dulled by the reality that Donald Trump and millions of his supporters were living in a different world, one in which he had won and the election was a joke.
Last Wednesday, we saw the culmination of months of lies as domestic terrorists broke past police lines and stormed the Capitol building. Congressional offices were looted and vandalized, windows were broken, and representatives were hiding scared in bunker rooms. People died.
In contrast to the Black Lives Matter protests of the previous summer, police did not pepper spray crowds, grab protestors off the streets in unmarked cars, or use lethal force. Despite the fact that this time it was a violent mob attempting a coup. A common refrain was heard on social media: can you imagine if this had been people of color? It would have been a bloodbath.
I watched it all unfold on the news, gulping tea, hearing Fox news try its hardest to pretend this was all okay. “Imagine if we had gone to D.C. today,” my sister said. We had planned to take a walk in Potomac Park, by the river.
Just before six p.m., while I was watching the panicked reporters, my mom read the ticker tape: a curfew was issued in Arlington.
In the next 15 minutes, I raced home before the streets were emptied, too scared as a brown person to break curfew, especially during the pandemic. Later, I learned there were exceptions for driving home, and that the real worry had been Trump supporters destroying property or assaulting people on their way back to their hotels for the night.
I have had the cops called on me. I have been in war zones and been followed. I’ve felt visceral fear for my life.
But the terror I felt on Wednesday was far greater. It was for the life of our democracy and our country itself.
I find myself forced to ask: is America still American?
Seven years ago, my parents and I made a cross-country road trip from San Francisco to D.C. We took circuitous routes and visited national parks, staying in one-horse towns. In 2021, we plan to do it again after we get vaccinated, so my parents can move back home to California.
This time we have mapped a direct route, no stops, hitting major cities by dusk and never refilling tanks in the rural America we once stopped in. As brown people, we used to receive uncomfortable stares and fingers. Now, we’re worried about being attacked or killed.
Over the last few months, friends from Bolivia, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, India, Pakistan, Ukraine, and every country America once looked down on have checked in on our safety, worried about our lack of COVID response, and — worse — frowned on our electoral violence.
“This would never happen here,” one friend said. He lives in a country we once criticized for violent coups and a dictator who refused to leave office. “We have fair elections here.”
“At least our leaders believe in the pandemic,” another said.
Looking at the burning fire I am living in the center of, I find myself forced to ask: is America still American?
We are a champion of democracy that squashes minority votes, lies about election integrity, and has 70 million people who voted for a treasonous, seditious, dictator-loving President.
We are an immigrant country that is terrified of foreigners and has impossible citizenship laws.
We are a melting pot that no longer allows assimilation or adaptation of culture.
We are a country of freedom that only permits white people to be truly free.
For years, I’ve served the United States of America, working for places like the Departments of Defense and State, drafting bills on increasing public and national service, and hearing how I didn’t belong here because I wasn’t white. Now I wonder if I was representing a real country or some version of ideals etched on the Statue of Liberty and burned onto my brain: ideals that never existed in reality.
I will never forget the terrorists who stormed Capitol Hill and flew the Confederate flag — a flag that stands for keeping Black people enslaved — from walls that had never been so disgraced at the height of the Civil War. I will never forget the police officers who took selfies with them or gave them directions to Senator Schumer’s office. I will never forget the dawning realization in the pit of my stomach that the United States of America was never the United States of America, and will never be as long as things do not change.
And as long as President-Elect Biden talks about reconciliation and how we are “all of us” equally American, I have no hope that they will. If the walls of Capitol Hill weren’t high enough to keep Trump’s terrorists out of our democracy, maybe we need higher ones.
This is not the time to excuse fascism or coups. This is not the time to allow pandering to Vladimir Putin, Mitch McConnell, or Supreme Court Justices confirmed a week before the election. This is not the time to allow even a lick of respect for Republicans who turned a peaceful transition of power violent after a fair election they tried very hard to ruin.
Mr. Biden, your job is not to reach across the aisle or stand with racist cops, homophobic justices, or gun-toting fascists who can only win elections through voter suppression and foreign meddling. It is not the time to allow any space for the millions of “Americans” who hide violent criminals in their communities, take our jobs, intentionally spread disease, and destroy our country. The truth is those people don’t belong here. (Recognize this rhetoric? I very much do.)
Trump supporters have spent four years telling people like me that we are un-American.
It’s time we treated them the same way.