I spoke in the historic USDA Whitten Building in Washington, D.C. last week. The USDA Rural Development department invited me to participate in a panel: “Race and Ethnicity in Cooperatives.” I presented alongside Carol Zippert, a co-founder of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives, which has been instrumental in helping black farmers retain farmland since the Civil Rights movement. We shared stories of how cooperatives have and will continue to empower people, and help them obtain agency amidst hostile, oppressive environments. Against policies that exclude people of color from land ownership, jobs, education, food, and health, we have banded together to meet our needs. Speaking before 200 people, I felt proud of the work of the Federation, of our Asian Farmers Alliance, of decades of social movements towards equality and justice.
That was a week ago. Today, I am crushed and terrified. I am terrified for my life and for us all.
The near future will bring sweeping policy changes, and an undoing of progress in environmental, social, and economic spheres. But what I fear most, what I loath to believe will happen, but what I must prepare for is a gradual but definite unraveling of the social fabric that has sustained our progress, and which shapes our daily lives.
In me, Trump supporters find everything they hate: a child of refugees, non-white, and gender-queer — an educated queer of color. And as such, I have experienced hate and bigotry throughout my life. I can still see the faces that yelled at me to “go home”, who yelled that they’d rape my “sideways vagina,” that I was a chink who should die and burn in hell. I can see my porch the day I came home to find my rainbow flag burnt by white neighbor boys and “faggot” sprayed across my front door. I can see the bruised faces and broken bodies of my friends, beaten by cops for sitting in the park, their only crime their color. I can see the clouds of pesticides sprayed on workers whose lives lost value with each darker shade of brown.
The realities of racism and sexism should not, and cannot be denied; they are as real as blood and broken bone, as rape and poison — yet we have endured this scourge believing the country would grow, that its people would learn, and that our lot would improve.
We have been working, collaborating, fighting for our equal place at the table and began to believe we were close. For my part, I aimed to contribute to our collective well-being by providing the most basic necessity for all: food. To do so, I had to move to rural America.
Rural America is home to many people of color who produce the bounty in which we all partake. We rely on people of color to plant, pick, process all these globally exported goods. Rural America is also home to Trump’s base. And here in rural California I’ve experienced more bigotry and harassment than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. Neighbors fly confederate flags from their porches, scream epithets at us, and vandalize our property. I continue farming, engaging, and living because I held an underlying belief that things will change. Since the election, I have heard Latino children recount that their classmates had asked if they’d packed their bags. I fear that deportation and increased violence will be visited on my friends and neighbors — and that racist, misogynist, homophobic people will be emboldened, that they will begin to act upon their hate. I fear my family and community who came here as refugees will be made into refugees yet again. I no longer have the salve of hope to heal wounds to our dignity. I dread stepping outside. I am paralyzed by fear. I am deeply terrified.
These are the everyday politics of rural life, and under Trump’s administration it is likely that the politics of hate will be seared into law. For most of history the law has been both the craftsman and tool of oppression: slavery, denying women and people of color the right to vote and own property, Chinese exclusion, Japanese internment, Arizona’s SB 1070, and whole libraries worth of other policies. Men, women, trans folks, centuries of people have fought to change laws so they may be agents of good, equality, and justice. Under Trump I fear we may see oppressive policies renewed and additional legislation with regressive effects. So it is with great perplexity and general anxiety I ponder the future of our cause, our nation, our world.
Yes, this blog is about farming. This is farming news. I can’t farm, I can’t do this work of providing healthful grains, I can’t be part of the much needed next generation of farmers when my endeavors, liberty, and life are threatened. This election — the shift in legislative, judicial, and executive power — affects farming, food, jobs, safety, all of us, in all aspects of life.
Now, for our own good and that of our friends and our future we must all unite to fight — not just in national politics, but in our communities and in our towns and state, we must redouble our dedication to equality. We must not let our ties fray and most of all we must love. We will unite in our common humanity and work together for a just, healthy, and peaceable society. We must and we will.