Trauma and Community in San Jose

Some drank. Some called in to work, sickened. Some wore black. Some sobbed. Some stayed up all night, unable to escape the pain and dread in their stomachs. Two therapists I know were flooded with crisis appointments. One of my students was on suicide watch. Those who were lucky had a community.

San Jose Public Library rally

The first community I turned to was my Facebook friends who provided these comforting words: “We must now be better. In France, after Hitler’s ascendancy, there was the Resistance. That must be us. Stand up. Protect the vulnerable. Volunteer locally. Donate globally. Say something when you see something. Be courageous. If we are the privileged, for goodness’ sake, for God’s sake, for our country’s sake, for our friends’ and families’ sake, for the least of these, use that privilege. If there is someone you don’t know, or understand, get to know them. Make friends, like kids do. The Muslim man, the trans woman, the Black little girl, the frightened little boy…”

Another friend reminded me, “I never thought I’d make it through the Reagan years but dancing and community and protest were certainly at the center.”

I Decided to Stand Up

Baby's First Rally: Aurora Alpers and mom, Julia Halprin Jackson

The words of Helen Keller, whom not everyone knows was a socialist, have rung in my head recently: “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure.” Going through the day, I felt a new commitment to declaring my allegiances, not as an in-your-face scream, but as a visible sign for those in need and pain, a reaching out. When my haircutter asked how I was, I said I was sad. She said she’d been up since 2:30; she too was very sad. As she cut my hair, we talked through our theories of how this happened. We connected.

sign from SJ Library rally

Walking home, a neighbor called to me from her car. “How are you?” Politely, I said, “Personally, I was disappointed by the election.” She was too. I told her I’d worn red shoes and then realized with horror that I might be mistaken for a Trump supporter. She reassured me that in our neighborhood, I was more likely to be mistaken for a gangster. We agreed to pray for our country.

A Downtown Rally at the Library

From one community that had earlier formed a coalition around Bernie Sanders and sponsored progressive forums, I heard

about a rally at the San Jose public library. There too, in the darkness of early evening, I connected with friends including a little baby at her first rally! There I heard of high schools all over San Jose holding demonstrations. In this agonizing and triggering time, it was good to find a physical place to express ourselves and people to hug.

“The Thing I Greatly Feared Has Come Upon Me”

Later I went to an event at Sacred Heart Community Services, another community I belong to. The first thing I saw in the

Sacred Heart Community Services

courtyard was an altar with candles, something to connect us to that which is bigger than our private individual selves and our private individual histories. The next thing I saw was food: pan dulce and champurrado. Traumatized people can forget to eat,

Laura Diaz, Sacred Heart Community Services

and one of the most important ways to show love is through physical nourishment. It was like a funeral, a multi-sensory healing event for immigrants and their allies who have heard cruel words on the street

and the playground, on the TV and radio, people who have been on edge for months. We lit candles from each other’s candles. We wrote on pieces of paper what we would do next. We wrote our hopes and fears. I made a commitment to support the groups that support me and to be a good representative of my side. A local poet, Laura Diaz, read the poetry of Luis Valdez. Astonishing to hear, in the midst of rejection and cruelty, his call for love and connection, as true now as in 1971 and just as difficult. Let me close with his words from “Pensamiento Serpentino“:

“To be CHICANO is not (NOT)

to hate the gabacho or the

gachupín or even the pobre vendido…

To be CHICANO is to love yourself

your culture, your

skin, your language

 

And once you become CHICANO

Altar Image

that way

you begin to love other people

otras razas del mundo

los vietnamitas

los argentinos

los colombianos

and, yes, even los europeos

because they need us more

than we need them.”

 


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