As an expat, one of the things I experience is how different governments treat their people, and how my passport country measures up. Until I had moved overseas, I had taken for granted American infrastructure, rules and regulations and our homegrown love for criticizing politicians and government. I lived in a democracy where political cartoons are the norm and SNL skits are revered and expected.
So, it’s been interesting to live in places where having those rights is not a given. For example, right now in Thailand, protesting on the street is not a legal option any more. Of course, I feel sympathetic, but I mostly listen. I hope it’s obvious why. As a result, I inevitably reflect on my own upbringing in historical contexts, and about my education.
In high school, when we were learning about US politics, I remember feeling torn between the Democratic and Republican parties because I liked and disliked both party policies. I didn’t have any parental influences coloring my perspective because mom’s an immigrant with basic practical English and my stepdad tried to instill the value of thinking for yourself.
When I look back at my voting history I’m not surprised to have voted Democratic, Republican or Third Party depending on the candidates. I am surprised, however, by how many I’ve been old enough to vote in – 7 including this year’s.
You have to understand that even though I am a pragmatic and idealistic person, I don’t believe that politicians care about everyday people. I’ve become cynical about our political system. When everyone was excited about electing Obama, I was in my dark corner grumbling, “He won’t do anything.” I didn’t care if he was black, white or green and I certainly didn’t have any pride about him being from Hawaii. He went to Punahou School, one of the most expensive schools on the island and a high school theatre rival.
No, I didn’t vote for McCain. I voted Third Party in the primaries. I was tired of the two party system, the same ‘ol same ‘ol. I wanted real change. I wanted a revolution. It didn’t happen. We moved overseas, fed up with American politics and the 9 to 5 treadmill. At one point, I foolishly declared on social media I was for anarchy, not fully realizing what I was advocating.
Fast forward to this election, when my BF first told me about Bernie Sanders, his eagerness and happiness, palpable, but apparently I said, “He won’t get elected. Don’t bother.” And then I slithered back onto my suspicious bench. My BF remained optimistic though.
In the beginning, Republican nominee Trump was just some ridiculousness that the media seemed to be lapping up. I only noticed him because it was hard not to. I jokingly said if you wanted attention, you need only add his photo to your blog or write about him. Talk about click bait. But as the primaries were coming to a head, I found myself very much invested in Bernie Sanders that rogue candidate who believed in shattering corruption, and who everyone is now touting as someone we should have taken seriously.
I also found myself looking behind the political correctness identity politics curtain that was being propagandized throughout mainstream media. There are a few reasons for this. I grew up in Hawaii so I know what a diverse population looks like, where whites can often be the minority, and how a diverse group can live together. Whenever I spoke about how ethnically rich Hawaii was, Mainlanders mistakenly thought we lived in blissful harmony to ukulele music with plumerias in our hair at the luau.
“Uh, no. Are you kidding? We’ve called each other nasty racial slurs and we had fist fights.”
Like Ja Flip which means Japanese Filipino and haole, originally a Hawaiian word that has come to mean ‘whites’ and straddling the line of: Does this mean nigger? But it’s important to say everyone got pissed on, including me who was part of the Asian majority.
(To be fair, I do want to add that Hawaii is filled with interracial couples, kids and families. When Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever came out, my brother and I looked at each other and said, “What’s the big deal?”)
In grad school, in one of those teacher training classes I was taking, I remember a white girl talking about the racism against her, how she was teased, bullied, beaten up, how she hated Hawaii and school, and how she was thrown into a dumpster. My classmates and I listened with horror. I was the first to speak up after a tension-filled silence. I guess because I knew what it was like to be a target myself.
“Sorry. I’m sorry you went through all of that.”
My BF endured this kind of distorted and misguided revenge too, but at sunny UC Irvine’s art program where he was constantly told, “We’ve heard from your kind for the last 2000 years, nobody cares what you have to say”. Never mind, he grew up poor and was teased for it. Never mind, he was here on scholarship. After this experience, he turned away from art, his passion, for many years.
I also dated a Southerner for 6 years. Alabama. Deep South. Baptist Christian Creationist who went to church as often as three times a week throughout his childhood. I met his family, stayed with them and his extended family (all kind and generous people), and *gasp* even lived in the South.
It made me realize how much the South as a region is fair game when it comes to judgments, jokes, and deeply insulting stereotypes. I find myself defending the South whenever it comes up in casual conversation as a ‘place to be avoided at all fucking costs’, as ‘banjo country’ and ‘backwards’.
Funnily, I experienced racism in California, Oregon, and Colorado, but never throughout my travels and time in the American South.
When I met Mr. Alabama, he had mostly gotten rid of his accent as he was sick of being asked, “Where are you from?” and of course, being teased. He told me he studied Californian’s accents and I think he felt pretty good about shaving it down, although whenever he gets off the phone with family it comes back.
My brother ended up marrying a Southerner and so all of my nieces and nephews are mixed and live in Tennessee. Maybe they are the only AMWF couple in the entire state, but I seriously doubt they are and the only mixed couple. Look, I’m not saying the South is perfect, I just think people’s perceptions of RED versus BLUE states and all that other crap is harmful, hurtful and propagates hate.
Perhaps all of this clued me in to the danger of listening and believing only one kind of narrative. Specifically, the narrative mainstream media was screaming from rooftops this election season: us versus them.
I don’t know. I decided not to go to battle on FB because it seemed like the conversation was being pushed aside for feeling angry, outraged, for “c’mon White people” status updates and vilifying OTHERS. Instead, I decided to read and listen to both the alternative left and the alternative right. And just like high school Lani reading about the US political system, I learned both sides said things that I agreed and disagreed with. Both sides covered things that the other didn’t, too.
Of course, it helps that I’ve been living out of the country since Obama took office. And I think it helped that I had weaned myself off of mainstream media many years ago when I heard that corporations like Time Warner had bought out other news outlets in America. I even limited NPR to just the books section.
But I’m not patting myself on the back. Because even though I have Dem, Rep and Third Party supporters and friends from around the world on Facebook, I’m not sure if folks are ready to stop blaming and listen to each other yet. You know what I mean? Yes, the emotions are dying down. The corporate media is starting to issue apologies for their propaganda and bias reporting. But until Americans start to understand what our government has been doing to countries and open a dialogue with those who they perceive to be their mortal enemy, I think I might as well continue to stand on the periphery.
Maybe I always will. After all, I didn’t vote. Therefore, many will see me as part of the problem. That’s fine because I’m used to having this conversation. I just have to tell them the story of young Lani watching the votes being counted across America from east to west, and how the next President of the United States was declared well before the count ever reached Hawaii. Or that there is something called the Electoral College. Or that it’s my choice to not participate in the government that I find corrupt. Or that I didn’t like any of the candidates. Or that the lesser of two evils is a bullshit argument that not even Hollywood perpetuates when the hero saves humanity.
Yes, I live overseas, so you could make the argument that my voice doesn’t count, that I’ve become less American as result. Or you could say, I’m just a bit on the outside.