Does every young generation feel like a teetering top?
I think of you often. It’s hard not to. Even with limited cell service and no internet here in Paraguay where I am completing my service for the Peace Corps, I see your face everywhere. When I eat lunch with my neighbors, I hear the news from their television as I stir fish head soup, the wide eyes of gaping piranhas staring back at me. I wish I felt as surprised as they look.
Yesterday, Venezuela and Uruguay issued advisories for citizens visiting the U.S. Travelers are postponing plans after being warned of “acts of violence and crimes of indiscriminate hatred” happening within the borders of my homeland. My friends here, they all look from me to their TV screens and back again, watching my face for a reaction. I think I disappoint them. I just sit and prod fish eyeballs and tongues and bones boiled soft.
I’m part of a growing demographic. We stand in contrast to all the talk of how Shocking™ the 2016 election was, all the calls of “How did we get here?” I call us the No Surprise Demographic. And we saw this coming.
We’re the ones who learned to shoot a gun at five years old, who saw our older brothers wear pistols on their hips to go to the grocery store and regularly cowered in classroom closets as part of middle school drills. Seeing a friend of a friend on TV talking about the last text she thought she’d ever send her mom, typed frantically from behind a pile of desks… it’s no surprise.
We’re the queer kids raised in the ‘Merica of Confederate flags flying from pickup trucks, of boys kissing boys under water towers in wheat fields, defying the Bible verses on our Sunday school walls. We’ve helped friends sneak out of attic windows to escape “pray the gay away” conversion therapy. Seeing the Supreme Court waffle over whether we can be fired for our queerness… it’s no surprise.
We grew up on school buses in the 21st century where the Spanish-speaking kids sat in the back. We spent the summers of our youth pruning apple trees with women who called us mi hija and swapped green card stories during lunch break. And we went home at the end of the day, carrying leftover tamales and practicing new words like hilo and tijeras, only to hear our fathers at the dinner table spewing about the brown people taking our jobs. The idea of a wall… It’s no surprise.
I wonder, does every young generation feel like a teetering top? I don’t think we’re unique in our concerns, but we may be unique in our ability to fight. We met our best activist friends on Tumblr as pre-teens, we post ten-second videos about the Articles of Impeachment on Snapchat, and we shamelessly flaunt our gender non-conforming bodies on Instagram. We organize virtual invitations for protest marches in our small towns and tweet our friends reminding them which companies to boycott until they divest in fossil fuels.
On Facebook, middle-aged white women from our hometowns demand to know how we could have “strayed so far from the truth.” They taunt us, wondering why these kids raised within barbed wire fences are creating “safe spaces.” We have grown beyond the borders of our small towns and small minds. We are the ones who learned to question, apologize, and ask for consent. To grapple with the crimes of our ancestors, even if that starts with telling our mothers that the Redskins is a terrible name for a sports team. We refuse weeklong mission trips, opting to use our whiteness to lift up the voices of the silenced and #SayTheirNames. We are uniquely armed, approaching issues with a background that offers empathy and humanity to each side.
While I slurp fish head soup, I know that I came here, to a country thousands of miles from my own, to learn about other people. But, more than anything, I’m learning about my homeland. My friends here are constantly surprised by my unwavering refusal to give my country the benefit of the doubt. But the biggest surprise comes when they see the countdown calendar on my wall, ticking off the days until I return to the land it’s not advised to travel to. They wonder: Why do I want to go back? Because that’s my home. And there’s work to be done—a divide to be bridged.
So, be on the watch, dearest America. I think we’re going to surprise you.
Whit Jester is a farm kid from an apple orchard in Orondo, Washington. She studied peace studies and environmental studies at Whitworth University before joining the Peace Corps and working in agricultural development in Paraguay for two years. She completed her Peace Corps service at the age of 21 and currently manages a farm in Chattaroy, Washington, before starting graduate school this fall. She’s studying conflicts caused by climate change in small agricultural communities. This is her first publication.