COMMENTARY: In eighth grade, three of my teammates watched me discover that my locker had been broken into and my basketball shoes stolen. They laughed.
Coach walked by, asked why I wasn’t ready for practice. I shared what happened. He walked away.
“Fucking gringo,” one of my teammates said to me. I felt scared and powerless.
The violence, racism and intimidation we’ve seen since Donald Trump was elected president last week, especially the kids in a middle school chanting “build the wall” at lunch, brought me back to that moment from my youth at St. Michael’s High School in Santa Fe.
There were brown kids in that lunch room last week, surrounded by peers who essentially taunted and threatened them.
Two thousand sixteen certainly isn’t the first time a political candidate fanned the flames of economic tension and racial anxiety to win an election. I’ve lived through a time like this. The Santa Fe of my youth was a top tourist destination and a popular place for the wealthy to build second homes on hilltops. They drove up prices and property taxes and forced many Hispanic people out of homes their families had owned for hundreds of years.
Enter Debbie Jaramillo, a combative city councilor who ran for mayor in 1994 on a pledge to take the city back from “outsiders” – code for white and wealthy. Like Trump this year, Jaramillo was outspent and trailing in polls. Like Trump, she pulled off a stunning upset.
Jaramillo taped into hurting people’s fears and gave them someone to blame – white folks –like Trump this year has pointed people’s fears at immigrants, Muslims and others.
Jaramillo’s demonizing of others proved to be dangerous and damaging. Teens can be especially cruel, and I felt the brunt of that. While some intend “gringo” to be a friendly label, I experienced it as a degrading racial slur back then.
To this day, I have to breathe out my fight-or-flight response when I hear that word.
I remember parents of a team we beat in basketball lining the sidewalk to stare us down and mutter awful things as we left their gym. I remember our mayor threatening that people might burn down the houses of outsiders “or put a gun to their head” if they came to Santa Fe.
Twenty-two years after Jaramillo was elected in Santa Fe, we have a nationwide revolt, largely by rural, white Americans. The 2008 recession, NAFTA and Obamacare are among the sources of their pain. Their communities are struggling with opioid addiction and high suicide rates.
So they voted. They broke everything that said Hillary Clinton would win – the polls, the campaign finance system, journalism.
Many people are frightened. I’m concerned for people who Trump and some supporters have threatened.
I also know from experience that political revolution brings change. Santa Fe still struggles, but it’s a more inclusive, thoughtful city today. When broken systems refuse to change, change still comes, but it’s more combative.
I didn’t like living in Santa Fe in the 1990s, and I’m uncertain now. I’m processing how to move forward as a human being and a journalist. I know I must keep telling stories and facilitating discussions that help us understand each other.
I’m also a big fan of civil rights. Some of Trump’s proposals are dark and unconstitutional. I’ll be watching closely.
Violence is unacceptable. I’ll call it out when I see it.
We must remain open to hearing each other and vigilant about protecting those who need help. That’s my commitment.