I haven’t written in a while because I couldn’t deal with all the conflicting emotions I was feeling around the presidential election. I was hopeful, anxious, hesitant, stalwart, depressed, and just plain angry all at the same time. It was too hard to write. Now, I am just ashamed.
I come from a very diverse family. Three out of my four grandparents were immigrants to the US and the last one was a first generation American, so I apparently don’t fit Ann Coulter’s definition of a proper American. My father was an immigrant, and it is his story I would like to share most, because I feel it clearly crystalizes why I feel so ashamed that Trump is now our president.
My father was born in 1937 in Romania. His mother was Jewish and his father was Muslim. When he was about four years old, he was sent away by his parents to live on a farm in the country so he would be protected from the Nazis. Romania would wind up killing 50% of its Jewish population, mainly because the royal family of Romania were of German descent. The Nazis didn’t have to fight their way into the country. They just walked in.
In 1945, the Nazis were replaced by the Soviets. My father was six. He had survived the Holocaust (his parents too) only to be repressed by the Russians. From my father’s account, though he was only a small child during World War II and grew up to an adult under the Soviets, the Russians were worse than the Germans.
In 1965, my father then 26, Nicolae Ceausescu took control of the Communist Party of Romania and plunged the country into further poverty and despair. There were heavy restrictions on amounts of food one could buy, where one could go in the cities, what one could listen to on the radio, what one could see in the movies, and there was even a country-wide curfew.
Luckily, I guess, one kind of American movie was allowed to be shown: Elvis movies. This was my father’s first real image of America: Rock and roll, tightly dressed women, colorful clothes, singing on the beach, driving big convertibles, and, well, Elvis Presley and all that he represented beyond that. He longed for that kind of freedom. He wanted to get to America.
In 1968, after one failed attempt at getting away by swimming the Danube river in order to try to run through Bulgaria to Greece that landed him in a labor camp, my father escaped. He boarded a bus for a 24 hour tour of Istanbul, Turkey. He told no one of his plan. He didn’t want his parents to get killed because they knew his plan.
In Istanbul, as they boarded the bus in front of the hotel to return the next day, he ran into the oncoming traffic. “If I got across the road, I was free. If I got hit by a car, I was free,” he told me. Obviously, he made it across the street. He ran to the police and pled political asylum. The Turks took his papers, gave him a temporary visa to stay in Turkey, and sent him on his way. He had relatives in Turkey on his father’s side, but they couldn’t help him out. Eventually, through some subterfuge and good connections, my father made it to Israel, where he became a citizen, established residency with the help of his aunt who lived in Tel Aviv. He had made it to the West (sort of) and was free.
In Israel, he met my mother, who is from New York and had moved there between Israel’s Six Day War and Yom Kippur War to help build the country up. They fell in love and got married in 1970. My father made arrangements to get his parents out of Romania to Israel through a government connection and the fact that Communist countries had little use for old people. They moved to Jerusalem, where my parents lived.
In 1971, my parents moved here, to New York City, and I was born. Three and half years later, my brother was born. A year after that, after moving out of New York to Teaneck, NJ, my father brought his parents over to the States to live near us.
In 1975, my father became a full citizen of the US. He loved this country. Any time I complained about the fairness of the justice system or how the presidency didn’t go the way I wanted, he would simply tell me “that’s how the system works. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best system in the world.” That shut me up. He certainly knew better than I.
My grandfather never became a full citizen, though he was a permanent resident. He died in 1985 and is buried in Paramus. My grandmother did become a citizen in the late ’90s, while Clinton was in office, and got to vote for president for the first time in 2000. She voted for Al Gore, mainly because “that Bush, he looks like a little mouse. I hate the sight of mice.” When my grandmother turned 100, she received her most prized possession: a letter from President Obama congratulating her on her centennial. She died at the age of 104 and is buried near her husband. She outlived my father by 7 years. He died of cancer in 2003.
And today is the first day that I am glad he’s dead. I loved my father so much and miss him every day since his death, but today he would have been so angry and ashamed to wake up and find out that a man who has said he would want to deport someone like my grandfather and who wants to limit immigration of people who are fleeing tyranny and war. I am well aware of how our system works, and even that the president actually can do little without going through a long process of working with Congress, but just the image of America that Donald Trump presents to the world is embarrassing and grotesque. I am ashamed of my “fellow Americans.”