Since the election, I had been in a black hole like so many of my friends and family. I tried to look at it as a gardener: Sometimes I dig up an entire area in my garden, I rip out everything to replant it. It is messy and unsightly in the beginning, and it takes muscle power, sweat, patience, perseverance, and quite a few blisters and calluses on my hands to turn it into a pretty flower bed or into a productive vegetable plot.
Only upon returning from the Women’s March in Washington D.C. late last night did it feel real that something good can come out of what is currently happening in America, people rallying and opening up like never before. Women, men and children of all colors, ages, religions, genders, and convictions were peacefully marching together towards the White House. Whether their numbers reflected their actual demographics does not matter to me. The two young women in headscarves with their red-white-and-blue portrait posters “We the People” represented their community just like the older Sikh man.
I have not felt that strongly about America since 9/11, and since I became a citizen in 2008. What I saw yesterday is the America I moved to and love. This is the America I chose to be my country, where everyone except native Americans is from somewhere else. That’s why knit a beanie in the colors of the American flag to wear at the March.
It is the America for which women around the world held marches in solidarity, including in my native Germany, where marchers said, “We in Berlin know that walls don’t work.” Women (and men) around the world marched for the America that cares, not an isolationist, self-absorbed America.
That caring America begins for everyone here and now, literally, in one’s own front yard. And that is what putting America first means to me. Every day I see large American flags in people’s front yards while they pour lots of chemicals on their lawn every gardening season, not thinking about the damage they do to the environment. I see people who declare themselves patriots but do not think about their ecological footprint, the impact of their lifestyle on themselves, their kids and future generations, the mountains of garbage they create with dozens of plastic bags each time they shop, excessive packaging, taking the car to their letterbox and letting the car running at the post office. I wonder whether the person who dumped an entire pickup truckload full of old tires into a wooded area in our neighborhood recently is one of those who want to make America great again.
Putting America first also means not feeding yourself and your kids with junk food but instead supporting your local farmers and food producers, and growing some of your own foods in your back yard.
To those who believe it is all about America and America only, I say, start taking better care of what is right here in front of you. Take better care of the beautiful land around you. Walk the talk.
As I wrote when I renamed this blog after the election, what attracted me to the United States was its diversity. By moving to a predominantly white rural area, I am physically removed from that reality in my daily life. But yesterday I was in the midst of it again, just like during my first three years after immigrating when I lived in New York City.
The kohlrabi from my garden is my husband’s favorite food photo of last year because it reminds me that there is no uniformity in gardening – just like in mankind, and just like in America. And it is that non-uniformity and non-conformity that I want to keep fighting for.