Vargas: Facing my return to a country under Trump after quarter abroad

Alani Vargas, Columnist

Tuesday was one of the worst night sleeps I have ever had in my life. Because I am studying abroad in Italy this quarter, I’m six to seven hours ahead of the United States and went to bed awaiting results in the morning.

I woke up to my roommate sobbing “No.”

I woke up to apologies, to friends urging self-care and to a completely different America than what I had gone to sleep to. I woke up to the heart-wrenching realization that Trump had clinched all but a handful of blue states. And not only that, the Republicans had taken over the Senate and the House.

What really broke my spirit was a tweet in all capital letters urging women to go out and get an IUD while they still can. I thought of all the women who have fought for access to healthcare and dignity for their bodies and how many steps back Trump’s presidency will take that fight.

If it wasn’t for my little sister who, at 9-years-old, has no idea what this could mean for her rights as a woman, I wouldn’t come back to the United States after study abroad ends. If it wasn’t for my 16-year-old sister who has dreams of being a doctor, I wouldn’t come back. If it wasn’t for my brother who, as a man of color, may face more police brutality than the average 13-year-old, I wouldn’t come back.

But if I don’t come back to the country I was taught to respect no matter what, it would only be a selfish act. I cannot turn into those who have forsaken me by electing Donald Trump, a man who threatens the values I hold dear. I cannot afford to hate like they do.

Being abroad has given me an opportunity to view American politics from afar. I’ve experienced the confusion native Italians have when hearing the election results. At dinner a couple nights after the election, my host mom asked for some explanation, and I couldn’t even look up from my plate. I had no explanation as to how Trump won. How could I find the words to explain to her that America voted in a racist, sexist bigot in Italian when I can barely do so in English?

Despite the shame I have for my country, I know I cannot let these feelings turn into desolation, abandonment or hopelessness. Fear must not inhibit me from helping my fellow people of color, my fellow women and my brother and sisters. Fear will not stop me from comforting those who are hurting as their civil rights are threatened yet again, this time by the incoming commander-in-chief.

Americans might not consider what this election means for other countries, but Italians are baffled and highly fascinated by the outcome. As part of a grammar exercise, my Italian professor asked what scared me. I was on the verge of tears as I replied that I was afraid America hated me. I was afraid that my gender and the color of my skin was undesirable to my fellow Americans. My teacher’s responded, in hushed tones and a motherly nod, almost as if someone had died.

I shouldn’t be getting emails from Northwestern on how to cope with the election. I shouldn’t be having trouble sleeping and not eating properly. I shouldn’t be having flashbacks to high school when, at the height of my depression, I didn’t want to get out of bed. An election should not make me feel scared or disgusted with my country. I’ve caught myself thinking “those Americans” far too often in the past few days, trying to distance myself from the successful campaign of hatred that runs deep throughout my home country.

There are already hate crimes taking place to people I know. Trump said in a “60 Minutes” interview airing Sunday night that he plans to deport 2 to 3 million undocumented immigrants, and Pence has built his political career on the hatred of the LGBTQ community and complete disregard  for women’s rights. Returning to the United States is definitely going to be tough. Never would I have thought to fear for the deterioration of my rights or harassment outside of intense catcalling. But I have seen amazing love and support from through protests and petitions since the election. I know that conscious effort and grassroots organizing can shape the future of our country beyond just the next four years. You can bet I will be at the very next rally after I step back on U.S. soil.

Alani Vargas is a Medill junior. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.