BY LISA MARIE BASILE
When my grandmother was young, she emigrated to the United States from Sicily, where she was surrounded by the squadristi, or Blackshirts. She came from a place where beautiful lemon trees pocked the land but poverty was real and oppressive. Speaking no English, she made her way to America's East Coast and eventually joined the Women's Army Corp as an X-Ray technician. I can't imagine how difficult that may have been, but I do know that my grandmother had a choice. And she chose to come to America. And she took advantage of it.
Likely because of the extreme prejudice Sicilians faced at the time, she felt it pertinent to change her name - from Concetta Maria to Mary, to adjust to American customs, to become part of the whole, to be less...Sicilian. But despite all of this, she was after opportunity, a new life, freedom. It's the sentimental story we hear time and again about America and its open arms.
I think of the many today who would like to come here but cannot. And the many who, as law-abiding, good people, come here to face struggle and assimilation shame and prejudice and deportation. I think of how we could, tonight, potentially see a man in power who would truly further thwart that opportunity and shirk the very idea of unity and acceptance. Who could even further destroy what America was supposed to stand for.
As an American with a great deal of family and friends from different countries, I have had the pleasure to travel and experience many other cultures. I have always been welcomed and embraced. But when I think on the way we treat certain foreigners — and the way we treat our own people — it is a devastating blow. It is appalling. And today — literally today, November 8 — we are living in a time in which many people think it's perfectly okay to say we should ban peaceful Muslim individuals from entering, to say we should build a wall against Mexico, that it's okay to behave as if women are objects, where it's reasonable to be embraced by the KKK.
Thinking back on my grandmother's life (and the lives of millions of others), I am certain that what this country wants to stand for, is, at the very least, opportunity and diversity. This, I think, is the real American dream. But it doesn't seem to be a reality. From colonialism to Donald Trump, hatred has been on tap since the get-go. It seems we really are divided. It seems the American Dream is only available to the privileged, to the predisposed, to the hard workers who were born in the right skin color, with the right sexuality or religion. It feels like an illusion. And for many, it seems that this is the right way to function.
In one day, we vacillate back and forth — we go from feeling nauseated by reality to existentially energized by hope for the future. We have been on a roller coaster for almost a year. And it's not stopping anytime soon.
But I want to remind people that today we came together and voted for our future in one of the most important elections in modern American history.
Supporters of Hillary and protesters against Trump: We worked hard, didn't we? We really, really tried. We rallied. We shared our stories and created million+ member Facebook groups and took sticker selfies and asked our family to register and vote. We made it known that bigotry and hatred is not okay. We are a wild engine of hard work and resilience, despite being objectified and hurt via media and Donald Trump. Lots of us tried. We had opposition — from Trump supporters, from our own kind, from third-party supporters, from our own families and our own cognitive dissonance. Many of us didn't like our choices. But we still fought for the future and for what is decent. Conviction was not in short supply.
And while we know that no candidate is perfect, today we got to do what we have never ever done before: we voted for a woman — for President of the United States. We got to say no to the man who wants to build physical and metaphorical borders. We did that.
Through all of the madness and frustration and endless, grating, painful Facebook debates — and through all of the traumatizing rhetoric we've heard coming from a presidential nominee — we have still managed to get to an important place. It should seem like just another day, because in other parts of the world, women are already leaders. It should seem like no big deal. But it is a big deal. It's a big deal and we are witnessing it.
96 years ago, women got the right to vote. That means it took 96 years to see a woman on a Presidential ballot. And that's why taking a moment to appreciate this day is so important — to remember that, even though change occurs at a sloth's horrible pace, it is happening. It is a fight that will continue years and years after Hillary Clinton (assuming she wins) leaves office. And many of you pushed for it.
But we know the racism, sexism and division in this country isn't over. We know it all so well by now. It's loud and clear and in the streets and you can taste it. We know it's not stopping tomorrow. Which is why we're going to keep pushing for change. Like we did during this election season.
Take a moment to remember how hard you worked to support your values and beliefs, even if you don't support Hillary. And especially if you do.
Lisa Marie Basile is a NYC-based poet, editor, and writer. She's the founding editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine, and her work has appeared in The Establishment, Bustle, Bust, Hello Giggles, The Gloss, xoJane, Good Housekeeping and The Huffington Post, among other sites. She is the author of Apocryphal (Noctuary Press). Visit her at www.twitter.com/lisamariebasile.