Wednesday, September 11, 2019

This administration is NOT the United States

Reno at the river
This administration is NOT the United States; 
nor was Obama’s, Bush’s (either one), Clinton's, 
nor Carter's, Reagan's, Ford's, Nixon's, FDR's,
or even Washington's. 

Living two years in Mexico as an expat and then returning to life in the US has clarified a lot of my feelings about being a US citizen.

Several years ago, I was kayaking on June Lake in the eastern Sierra, when one of those messages struck me. You know the ones ... you may not actually hear them, but they come through a megaphone into your mind.

I was peacefully kayaking around the lake, noticing the twisted junipers growing seemingly out of solid rock when it sounded:


It was so clear, so shocking, I almost dropped my paddle. I haven’t gotten many messages like that in my lifetime, so it stuck with me, almost haunted me.

Eastern Sierra near Bridgeport
At the time, after moving about more than the average couple, we were living in the high desert, eastern Sierra town of Bishop, content with life. I decided the message meant that regardless of where I was living, I should learn and grow. Little did I know how many times I would get to test that message over the next few years.

Gradually, I came to realize that it referred to more than just geography as within a handful of years, I lost my husband, my home, my mother and second mother, a dream of happily ever after, another home, and my dog. Each loss was another “place” giving me opportunities to learn more about who I am and how I want to live in the world.

As I lost the most critical connections in my life, I began to realize the importance of things I had always taken for granted: family, love, unconditional love, community, real friends and shared history. However, as life became increasingly more disconnected, the thought of moving Mexico began to seem like the next step. It was just another place to grow, a place I had always enjoyed, and one that fit my Social Security budget.
Ajijic pier
So, I moved to Ajijic, an art-rich, gringo-filled village on beautiful Lake Chapala. Because of all the people from Canada and the US, speaking Spanish wasn’t a necessity and it was somewhat like a high school for seniors … if you were interested in something, there were bound to be playmates interested in the same thing.

For the first time in memory, it felt like I was part of a community. Walking to the plaza meant stopping to talk with new friends … you just didn’t know which ones you’d run into. It was heaven: great photography and a chance to get involved with amazing projects such as the Feria Maestros del Arte, an organization that produces an annual weekend festival of Mexican folk art where ALL the sales money goes to the artisans who come from all over Mexico. The Feria collects no fees or commissions from the artisans, and pays all their travel expenses. 
Alebrije from the Feria Maestros del Arte
I was happy: writing, making art, studying Spanish and exploring some of the incredible colonial towns in central Mexico. I had a few close friends and a growing network of acquaintances. Learning about the history, culture and art of Mexico fed my intense need to learn; plus, I had moved into a beautiful, historic property right on the lake with a pool and what felt like a private resort for its nine owners. 
The pool at my place on Lake Chapala
Life seemed perfect, until …

I was visiting family in Reno, doing my usual morning walk when tears started falling. Ridiculous I thought, but still they came. When I tried to find the source of the tears, the words that appeared were: “I want to come home.” That was strange since I’d never lived in Reno and had never ever felt “home-sick.” Home was just the place where all my stuff was. 

Yet, the impulse was so strong, I immediately announced the decision to move to Reno. Within two weeks I had bought a car and a new home (basically a tiny house) and, within a month, I was living in Reno trying to figure out why. 
"Family" is what I told everyone and that was a huge piece of the puzzle. Eventually I came up with some additional, somewhat superficial reasons; however, it took weeks before I realized what underlay them all … ROOTS! With all my moving around, I never thought I had roots, but Mexico taught me differently. 
 Art piece inspired by Fiesta de Cristo Rey
In the month prior to moving to Reno, I had explored the state of Michoacán, primarily Pátzcuaro and Morelia. I was fortunate enough to find a brilliant guide, Jaime Hernández, who opened up the history and culture of Mexico in a powerful way. It is common knowledge that family is important in the Mexican culture. However, Jaime helped me understand more of what is meant by “family.” 

Wedding in a small village near Pátzcuaro, Michoacán
As we stood in a village plaza watching a wedding in process, he explained the proceedings and told me about one of his family weddings. In the wedding of a godchild, there was a great deal of ceremony among the grandparents, uncles, and cousins of the bride’s family and the groom’s as they committed to supporting the young couple. Then, the two family groups came together and passed around cigarettes and tequila as both sides solidified their intentions to become one, much larger family. 

As Jaime described his family wedding, he joked, “I gained 43 new family members in that one day.” In Mexico, family grows quickly into community and becomes the primary support system in an uncertain world.

Jaime’s guidance was one of the best learning experiences I had in my time in Mexico. However, it may also have opened my eyes to the important fact that Mexico, with all its beauty and lovely, generous people, was not what filled my bones. My own roots were in the United States.

When I looked back over my two years in Mexico, I could trace a growing trend in the conversations and Facebook posts of my expat friends, who are largely progressive and primarily from the United States. Shock, anxiety, anger, and disbelief have been common reactions to the dismantling of human rights and protections of our democracy and natural resources by the current administration. 
Beyond those emotions though, the expats also often express gratitude for no longer being in the US with its increasing violence and openly expressed hatred of anyone with diverse beliefs, colors, economic status, or religious affiliations.

Refrains heard often included: “I’m glad I’m not there (US).” … “I would never go back.” “It’s not the country I thought it was.”

I understand those feelings. However, I think they also are part of what brought me back as I suddenly felt that I needed to be here. I needed to stand with my country in its time of trial and pain. I don’t know how my being here will help, but I feel like it’s important for me to do my small part to help us survive this challenge to our democracy. Ours is a democracy birthed with the seedling of an idea of freedom and justice for all, which may or may not survive the current assault, but I will be part of whatever happens. 
Reno's Pride Parade was a joyous affair
I will support diversity in all forms, take part in the political process, connect with my community, fill my remaining years with as much beauty as I can find and share, and try in all ways to "be love."

Afternoon glow and families at the river
Beyond the current administration and each of the administrations that went before it, there is the people of this country who have shown incredible generosity and goodness, as well as a dark shadow of greed and discrimination. I don’t know if our better natures will win. I don’t know if we will have a habitable planet long enough to find out. I only know that:

This is my country, good and bad. 
It is where I was planted. 
It is my place to grow.


  1. We're lucky to have you back, fighting the fight, spreading the love.

  2. As you know Joyce, I live north of the 49th parallel. We are neighbours. We are different and the same. I don't think what is happening in the US with intolerance and tearing apart of social justice and human rights is unique to the US. It ispart of the chaos that must be experienced to find the next wave, the new way, a better path. At least, that's what I'm hoping this globalization will bring -- not just its voices of intolerance and injustice but our beautiful shared and collective human capacity to live not just the american dream but all our dream to be free to be ourselves in all our differences and similarities in a world that is sustainable, just and kind. thank you for your words. They ring true like the Liberty bell.

    1. Thanks, Louise for your always-wise words. It is a global wave and I think our survival and success in the coming years will depend on our understanding that we are all in this together.

  3. Extremely thoughtful post.

    And just to be clear, the really important part of being back in the US is walking on uncobbled streets. ��

    1. Thanks, Pat ... it is great to be uncobbled indeed.