Letter to the editor: Election highlights the need to preserve freedoms

“What are we doing here?” These are the despairing words my wife and I have said every so often since midnight on election night.
You see, Ariane is Dutch and I am Mexican-American.
Ariane has but one reason to live in Vermont: me. We married in 2014 and, thanks to the Windsor vs. U.S. Supreme Court decision six months earlier, she received a marriage-based Green Card. Thanks specifically to Justice Kennedy’s notorious swing vote, U.S. federal law now allows U.S. citizens to share their home with their non-citizen same-sex spouses. So Ariane sold her house, loaded her belongings into a sea container and, cats in tow, took a one-way trip to Vermont.
Ariane joined me less than two years ago, but I have called Vermont my home for 20 years. I came from Mexico as a Ph.D. student. I taught beginning Spanish while pursuing my coursework at the State University of New York.
Thanks to a teaching assistantship, I paid the outrageous amount of $300 for my Ph.D. For a penniless college graduate like myself that meant the difference between the prospect of becoming a professor with job security and a more than decent income, and cobbling together subsistence wages from several teaching jobs in Mexico. Meritocracy worked: I was treated fairly and got a job at Middlebury College, where I have thrived professionally and am raising two happy, healthy children.
I was welcomed in Vermont, yet for a long time I was not whole. It took decades before I could come out. When I finally gave myself the gift of coming out for my 50th birthday I was terrified: would my friends stand by me? Would my kids’ friends come for sleepovers at our house, just as when I had been seen as heterosexual? I am happy to report that, for the most part, my and my kids’ life has not been upended.
But then came Nov. 8. What are we doing here? we asked. Ariane and I have cried several times — those low moments pepper the many others when we stand up and, as President Obama said, we dust ourselves off and get to work.
Since the fateful night I have spoken to three class roomfuls of students about the need to listen deeply, to see others’ point of view and seek common ground no matter how different from our own. Not to hush or walk away — to ask questions and respectfully disagree. To work towards the change we want. We grieve together. We heal through writing.
But the world is out there, and it is changing fast. I see on TV police assaulting protestors. Swastikas on storefronts. On my own campus hateful, criminal language has appeared graffitied on students’ bulletin boards.
What are we doing here? I ask myself. I go home with a headache. I have had a headache for the past few days. I look to Ariane for support. She for mine. I want to bury my head in my pillow and close my eyes.
That is when my kids come to the rescue. My son, a sophomore at Bard College, calls a meeting and organizes a protest. He offers free hugs, cookies, and political leadership. The activist groups on his campus are coalescing and organizing meetings and protests in town.
In class, some of my Middlebury College students express their pain. Others, happy that Trump won, listen with respect. They disagree. They talk and listen.
And then there is Camila, my 13-year-old. She nips potential harassment in the bud like only she can:
Friend: Uhh. You’re Latina, right?
Camila: Yeah, so I’m both a bad hombre and a nasty woman.
Did I say Camila’s nickname at school is General Badass?
With a daily dose from her and the young people around me I can face the world.
She will be fine.
My students will be fine.
We will be fine.
We may occasionally feel terrified, but one thing is certain: We have fought too hard for the freedoms we have gained. We will take care of each other. We will not let anyone strip away our freedoms.
Gloria Estela González Zenteno

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