Sharing Blood, Not Politics

Cassandra Leeman

I’ll admit it’s a lost cause to claim that much of anything can be apolitical these days, still, try to hear me (and my father) out. While we’ve got plenty of opposing views and the attempt to categorize or otherwise judge is tempting, I promise this essay is not about that. It’s about family, country, party, and then political views, in that order.

I don’t claim to be (or register as) either a Democrat or a Republican. That said, this impending election and all the surrounding politics have been especially incendiary, evoking strong responses across the board. There’s been plenty of fuel for my fire lately. While I tend to lean toward the liberal end of the spectrum, my parents are staunch conservatives and diehard supporters of our current president. So, as you can imagine, it’s a highly combustible situation to begin with, before factoring in the trait of stubbornness my father and I share.

My father is a Vietnamese refugee who fought alongside the U.S. military during the Vietnam War. He had to flee South Vietnam to save his life and immigrated to the United States in 1974. Oshkosh, Wisconsin to be exact. A young man of 17 or 18 years old (his government birth records and details have always been “approximations”) he was welcomed into a host family’s home to begin a new life. His first few years of adulthood would coincide with his discovering of a new country — a democratic one free from the confines, corruption, and failures of the communist nation he had just fled. Given these experiences, you’d think my father might have objections to, I don’t know, maybe the president’s hardline and inflammatory immigration rhetoric, his overtures to white nationalist hate groups, or his ongoing obsession with building a ‘great and beautiful’ wall. These are all topics I’ve raised with my father.

Instead, my father views things through the sometimes distorted lens of his own life experiences: He came into the United States the “right” way and strict immigration policies are necessary to ensure the same. Too many people are here illegally. Socialism and communism (and China) destroyed his family and decimated his birth country; both are inherently evil and should be avoided and combatted at all times. Personally, he’s seen reduced taxes under the Trump presidency and believes a second term will keep that going. There’s also this other fun fact to contend with: my dad watches FOX News religiously and exclusively, and, by his definition, I’m limited to the other “Fake News” sources (aka NY Times, CNN and the like). As one might expect, our “healthy arguments” quickly turn explosive. A few weeks ago, my father and I had one of our most intense political “debates” to date.

As my family gathered over a home cooked meal, my sister FaceTimed me so I could join in singing happy birthday to my niece. Everyone was enjoying the festivities, sharing a little wine. Naturally, the conversation then turned to the apparent inevitability of a Nancy Pelosi presidency due to the millions of fraudulent mail-in ballots, all borne out of a Democratic Party that has been infiltrated and overrun by Socialists. My father’s loyalty to the Republican Party runs deep (like nearly half of the Vietnamese American population this election season). When I brought up the fact that many of these ideas are contrived by our current ‘Liar-In-Chief,’ the same xenophobic draft dodger who was once (when it was a more politically convenient stance for him) a pro-choice democrat, things had reached a point of no return. I yelled at my father. There was no swallowing these words; all the honest things I could no longer hold back were spewing out of my mouth. He shouted in disbelief that he had “raised a bunch of communist kids.” We both saw red.

My dad has always been a family man. He is a Buddhist who places value on all life — both large and small. He taught me and my siblings that all life was precious regardless of how insignificant it may seem. When I was young, I was terrified of being stung by bees, but my dad always encouraged me never to act out of fear. Whenever a bee was buzzing around me he would catch it mid air, bring it close to his chest, then slowly open his palms to demonstrate that bees will only sting if they are scared. The bee would fly harmlessly away and I loved him for that.

There you have it: I love my dad and I hate his blind presidential support. I appreciate his immigrant story and I can’t comprehend his hypocritical views. All at the same time. And I think the thing that we have to remember is that family (and to a lesser degree, country) has to be able to hold it all. The inherent contradictions. The happy moments when everything is right with the world, even when it isn’t. The Venn diagrams with no shared overlapping parts. The hugs and the tears. The holidays and the debates. And while the stakes seem impossibly high this time around, at the end of the day someone is going to win this next presidential election, and in a few more weeks we’ll all be singing happy birthday to another niece.