A certain kind of power defines itself by what it can harm.
I emerge from one of Barcelona’s winding side streets to find the Plaça de Catalunya empty and flooded with light. It looks like something engulfed in amber: shimmering, golden, and very, very old. It has been Monday for three hours and I have come to wait for a cab. Behind me, students leave the club. They call to each other in Catalan. I am drunk—partly on the red vermouth, mostly on the heady thrill of traveling alone—but even if I were sober, I would not understand a word. I am an American.
It’s been 19 days since the 2016 election; 24 hours since I last said the words “nuclear winter.” I look past the rows of lime trees and softly hemorrhaging streetlamps and imagine that I see traces of shrapnel in a door, a bullet-pocked wall draped with torn tricolor flags. I know that these things are not there. I came to this country expecting to see ghosts.
When I booked this vacation, I was not thinking about nationalist coups, fachas, bloodied bullrings, or social psychology theory. I was thinking about paella. Now, I’m looking for the traces of a conflict that I think might help me understand the fallout of my own country’s reckoning. I feel stunned and suspended in a way I’ve never felt before, caught in a web of dread. The easy wellbeing of the students is stranger to me than the Sagrada Familia.
I ask the cab driver to drop me off at the metro station on Para—llel-Drassanes is much closer to the hostel, but I know how to find my way back from here. The long avenue skirts a gentrifying neighborhood called El Poble-sec and the southernmost part of El Raval, which runs all the way to the port. Many of the neighborhood’s residents are immigrants from North Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia; in the span of one block, you are as likely to overhear conversations in Urdu and Tagalog as you are Spanish. It’s been this way for a long time. But in late 2016, it takes on an instructive poignancy.
Everybody’s kids skate together. You can get a kebab, walk across the street, and get a bratwurst. Street vendors sell Indian textiles and FC Barcelona wallets. On weekday afternoons, you might find a Brazilian student, an American tourist, a Pakistani family, and a Spanish couple crowded together in a tiny Greek café, enjoying preposterously generous portions of souvlaki. You see people becoming neighbors everywhere you go.
I think of Queens as I explore Barcelona’s winding streets in the brisk late November air. It reminds me what a city with its spirit intact can be. Everywhere, the hallmarks of progressivism: Mayor Ada Colau, accessible infrastructure, and a new citywide refugee resettlement program, albeit one that’s been fighting the national government to get more refugees admitted and won’t be of much use until they are.
“El Raval reminds me of New York,” I tell Matteo, the American who works the night shift at the hostel. He gives me a skeptical look. We are the only New Yorkers here, but we are not the same kind. He’s from Greenwich Village and wears his hair in a stylish bun. I am from the part of Queens where you’re as likely to find bibimbap as bialys.
“I mean, it reminds me of Queens.”
Three weeks post-election, it feels strange to be in a place where existential panic is not the norm. Aside from a cardboard cutout advertising crepes (“the best crepes, the most beautiful crepes”), there is no mention of what happened in America until Matteo brings it up. He asks if I’m “taking a break from all that.” I feel like the last sibling to leave a broken home, the one stuck dealing with the collection agencies, Mom’s crying jags, Dad’s benders. He calls us the States, like an election observer, his tone smarting with something unfamiliar and European. I think it’s schadenfreude.
Our neighbors at the hostel are Moroccan, German, Brazilian, Canadian, Mexican, Estonian, Indian, Latvian, Korean, and Australian—and though we talk about every corner of the earth, no one dares to mention the goose-stepping elephant in the room. Maybe they are sensitive to our feelings. Maybe they worry we’ve brought guns. In any case, I am usually the one to bring it up, usually after pointing to a building and wondering how much it costs to live there. I find myself quoting Rorty in disbelief to a woman from Boston and ranting uncontrollably to one from Indiana.
It’s different in Queens. For the first time in our lives, we talk to each other on the 7. We’re looking at the same thing on our phones anyway. We realize that, annoying though we all are, we’re good people. Exceptionally good. It’s a nice feeling to share a laugh with your cab driver, unified by your horror and contempt, shaking your fist in the direction of the nearest golf course. In Barcelona, people just give you a wide berth. When I get back to the hostel around a quarter to four, it occurs to me that I was out all day and saw no one crying.
Romanticizing your home borough is a given, especially when that borough is Queens. Forget the smell of the East River and the light flurry of toxic dust. Forget the Trumps and Howard Beach and the eerie proximity of certain aging power plants. Queens is the only borough simultaneously glorified and dismissed by the popular imagination: lauded for its multiculturalism, snubbed when it refuses to pander to fashionable outsiders. I had a panic attack the summer we topped Lonely Planet’s Best of the US list. I wanted to protest. I wanted to cover the Queensboro Bridge in the kind of graffiti I saw on the climb up to Parc Güell: TOURIST GO HOME, WE DON’T NEED YOUR MONEY, FUCK YOUR WALLET, VETE AL INFIERNO.
I wanted to throw myself in front of a Google Street View car.
And yet, I am an American tourist—the worst kind. Stereotypes of the American female traveler color every interaction I have, especially in Spain, where today’s tourists are widely considered a scourge. But even before we ruined Ibiza, we were symbols of a hated regime. In the 1960s, the Francoist government promoted tourism in an effort to rebrand the country and revive the economy. Tourists became an object of bitter scorn. By hating naturally risible tourists, you could oppose the dictatorship safely and quietly. Female tourists were even easier to mock, running away from their own so-called “liberation” and into the arms of that other stereotype, the Latin lover, oblivious to the fact that their conquest was conquering them right back.
That first night in Spain, extremely bored and self-consciously alone, I dance with a young guy in Diesel jeans who seems caddish in a blundering way. Girls greet him with a smirk and a high-five. “Oh, it’s Creep. Hey, Creep,” they say. This reassures me that he is a benign nuisance, someone who has taken no for an answer and will again.
We dance. We dip, we twirl, we even tango. Then his knee juts into and motorboats my crotch.
“You’re making me feel like a bad man,” he says when I leave. He pretends to pout. He invites me to a hotel. I smile through my disappointment.
The night is spoiled, but I refuse to let it set the tone for the week. This is my vacation. I don’t have time to worry. But worry webs around me anyway, keeping the parameters of my freedom in sight.
I don’t mention Creep to anyone during or after my trip. If I am lucky, I will come to recall him as nothing more than a peculiar trifle, inanimate and inevitable; a perpetrator-less offense, like trash in the wind. Wherever you go, there is trash. There is wind. There is no avoiding either, especially if you like to go places.
I like to go places. All the more reason, I think, to forget where I’ve been.
Protestors glide along the wall, ethereal in their archival glow. They wear high-waisted jeans and colorful T-shirts, carry pocketbooks and protest signs. It’s not lost on me that I am seeing an exhibit on the fall of fascism just weeks after my country handed itself to the same machine.
The worst has happened. A new worst, because “worst” has a different meaning today than it did yesterday. I have no solutions. The smartest people I know are confounded. We are all looking out on a landscape of suffering that we recognize from books and museums but have not ourselves wandered lost after dark.
Gelatin duro, or hard gelatin, is the name of the exhibit I’ve stumbled across at MACBA today. It is a retrospective of “hidden stories” from the eighties, the turbulent period after Franco’s death that saw the Spanish transition to constitutional democracy. The exhibit also interrogates the popular version of those events. For Spain, this period was not just about music and fashion and Almodóvar; it was also about the suppression of labor movements and the specter of a second coup.
“This oxymoron borrowed for the title plays precisely with the idea of gelatin, something insipid, bland and easy digestible, contrasting with the quality of hardness,” Teresa Grandas, curator of the exhibition, said in a press release. “Hard gelatin does not exist, it goes against its own nature, but it is the perfect description of the kind of digestible image of the eighties that we were sold at the time and has survived to this day.”
After the Franco’s death in 1975, an informal political agreement called the Pacto del Olvido, or Pact of Forgetting, made it a national taboo to acknowledge fascist war crimes. Two years later, the Spanish legislature passed a law preventing those crimes from being investigated and tried in court. It was considered a political necessity to repress the memory of the dead, since the new democratic government included hardliners from the old.
The exact number of dead is unknown, but historian Paul Preston puts the number of men and women executed during the war at approximately 200,000. Fascists killed another 20,000 supporters of the Republic after the war ended; tens of thousands more died in prisons and concentration camps, including Nazi concentration camps. Franco himself was known to sign sheaves of death warrants after lunch. It wasn’t until 2007, with the Law of Historical Memory, that victims’ families began to see meaningful reparations: monetary aid, mass grave exhumations, the removal of fascist symbols and monuments.
At first, the idea of a forgetting law struck this American as strange. But then I did some remembering myself. America has its own unspoken pact; we don’t need a law to make it work. We have textbooks and Twitter for that. We have policy advisors who “misspeak,” massive propaganda machines that don’t disguise their aims. We have monuments to white people who owned, raped, and killed black men, women, and children. We have colleges named for those people. And when those monuments to white supremacy are challenged, we have white people insisting that they’re really about “heritage”—as though a heritage of racial violence is one worth preserving at all. That Nazis love their fascist statues is hardly shocking. What’s shocking is that the mythology of American progress could ever exist alongside monuments to American depravity.
“Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts wrote in 2013, in a majority decision to nullify key parts of the Voting Rights Act. “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.” Soon after the ruling, several states raised their voter ID requirements; the DOJ sued Texas to block one of the toughest voter ID laws in the country. Seventeen states passed new restrictions in the years that followed, representing 70 percent of the electoral votes needed to win the 2016 presidential election.
White America’s pact of oblivion is a loud kind of forgetting, a strenuous display of innocence. It’s a collective refusal to remember the traumas of the past. Moreover, it’s a tactic that helps only the witting and unwitting beneficiaries of that trauma, since the traumatized are never really allowed to forget.
“It is arguable, at least, that fascism (understood functionally) was born in the late 1860s in the American South,” writes political theorist Robert O. Paxton. At a glance, the parallels are pretty obvious: both grew out of backlash against perceived threats to the prevailing social order. Former Confederate soldiers created the Ku Klux Klan in response to African Americans’ freedom, particularly their newly won right to vote. Similarly, Falangists resented the Second Republic’s endorsement of women’s education and minority rights. Both parties had recently lost power, and both shared a distorted fantasy of themselves as warriors fighting to get that power back.
Watching the projection on the wall, I can’t help but think of a more recent protest. In 2015, Spanish conservatives introduced a public safety law that has come to be known as “ley mordaza,” a gag law restricting the right to assemble. The law forbade demonstrations in certain public spaces, including a street in front of the Congress of Deputies. So that was where a coalition called No Somos Delito chose to protest in hologram form. They cast their ghostly, glitching likenesses into the street, where they marched and chanted, emitting a faint blue glow.
I wondered if the people in the archival footage had seen it. I wondered if it made them feel hopeful or defeated, or if it left them cold.
By 1970, the Franco regime was running out of enemies. The Communists and Spanish Republicans were either in jail or dead; they needed another scapegoat, someone perceived as un-Spanish, un-Catholic, and infinitely threatening to the fabric of society. At the same time, a side effect of encouraging tourism in the 1960s was that it brought a greater range of sexual expression to the country. Francoist judges were alarmed by what they saw as a “growing wave of homosexuality.” Their counterparts in the media took every opportunity to portray LGBT people as immoral. It was against this backdrop that the Franco regime updated a vagrancy law to create a new criminal category for gay and transgender people.
The Law of Social Danger targeted not only LGBT people, but also any cisgender man deemed effeminate enough to be plausibly queer. (Of thousands arrested, only two are known to be women.) As such, the law was arbitrarily applied—sometimes to blackmail bar owners, sometimes to sexually coerce the lower classes. In every case, the sentence hinged on a conservative judge’s assessment of the victim’s morals.
Under the law, victims could be jailed, interned, forced into hard labor, and subjected to barbaric “therapies” at reeducation centers, which included everything from electroshock therapy to lobotomy. When Franco died in 1975, the law remained on the books. None of the post-Franco amnesty laws applied to its victims, who were not considered political prisoners. Many remained in prison for years. Even three decades later, their “criminal” records were still in the system, leaving them vulnerable to the whims of homophobic police officers.
It took 25 years of clandestine LGBT organizing and public protest to fully repeal the law. As with other estimates from that era, it’s hard to say how many people were detained and registered under it. The official number is 4,000, but the unofficial and likely more accurate number approaches 50,000.
The most insidious thing about the Law of Social Danger is that it turned anti-LGBT sentiment into a legal designation. Homophobia was hardly rare in the conservative Catholic country, but it was no more lethal to queer communities than it was anywhere else. It took a government to make it law.
My great-grandmother and her sisters had no money. They knew how to sew. They studied and imitated the latest women’s fashions, adding bows, buttons, and frills where they saw fit. It was important to make a good first impression, especially after two weeks in steerage.
Like many other immigrant families, their father and brother had gone to America and wired what little money they made to Warsaw. The plan was to bring the women over in a few years.
Then World War I happened.
The women took any work they could find to raise money for train tickets to Paris, where they knew that boats were leaving for New York. They tailored dresses and rolled cigarettes. They apprenticed eight-year-old Raisele to a wigmaker. Seven years later, they made it to La Havre, where they discovered they could not afford to board a boat. For six weeks, they scrambled to find work in Paris to keep up with the rapidly rising price of tickets.
They arrived at Ellis Island on December 17, 1920, where they were greeted by harsh winds, huge clouds, and an Irish officer who gave them new names. Malca, Malia, and Raisele became Mary, Molly, and Rosie.
Since childhood, I have learned our history through the stories Mary chose to keep. There weren’t many. Though she spoke Yiddish, Polish, English, German, and knew how to buy groceries in French, she was a woman of few words—the hard-headed one, the decision-maker of the family. As such, she never had to explain any of her decisions. They were all, historically speaking, right.
She kept only one story about Europe, and it wasn’t about herself. It was about Raisele. Rosie. Hotheaded, fiercely independent Rosie. Militant Rosie. Rosie would later go on to marry a stranger to save his life—risking her own when she returned to Poland in 1937 for the ceremony—but in this story, she’s just 15 years old, walking home when she sees a group of young roughs assaulting a Jewish man on the street. A policeman is standing by, watching.
In some retellings, Rosie enters the fray. In others, she enjoins the policeman to act. What we know for sure is that he doesn’t. Instead, he puts her name in a police report. When Rosie tells Mary this detail, Mary ignites with a combination of love for her sister and horror at her recklessness, simultaneously awed and enraged. She buys the train tickets.
The three sisters left Europe just five months shy of the 1921 Emergency Quota Act, which introduced quotas to American immigration law and made it almost impossible for refugees to enter the country. Three years later, Rep. Albert Johnson (R-WA) authored the eugenics-based Immigration and National Origins Act, tightening the quota to two percent of any group’s 1890 Census count. Combined with other legislation, the law banned Asian immigrants entirely and created impenetrable waiting lists for Eastern and Southern European refugees. It wasn’t fully repealed until 1965, more than two decades after it had blocked thousands of Jews attempting to flee Nazi terror. More recently, it was praised by former Attorney General Jeff Sessions for “[slowing] down immigration significantly.”
Mary spoke five languages. She didn’t speak about her feelings in any of them. She was a quiet, serious, practical woman. If it was a story you were after, you would have more luck with Rosie or Molly. Mary only held onto a story if it was helpful in some way. What made it helpful was that it gave you hope.
America was the most helpful story Mary had ever heard.
Rosie was disappointed that Forsyth Street wasn’t paved with gold. Years later, she spoke of staring out the window of her family’s tenement and watching a strong wind hurl bits of garbage down the alley.
I asked Rosie’s daughter, my third cousin twice removed, if her mother was disturbed at all by the rampant anti-Semitism of 1930s America. She told me no, she wasn’t, because whatever she happened to encounter was nothing compared to Europe. What Rosie mainly felt, she said, was gratitude.
The era saw a massive campaign of xenophobic propaganda: in the early 1920s, Henry Ford paid for the printing of more than 500,000 copies of the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.” Conservative politicians like Johnson portrayed Jewish refugees as Bolshevik agitators and dangerous revolutionaries. One lobbyist, who assisted in drafting the 1924 law, proposed that Jews provoked the ire of Nazis with their “beliefs in the Marxian philosophy.”
It’s no secret that epithets like “Marxist” and “terrorist” are politically useful. When Sen. Ted Cruz sought to pass a bill defining Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, he was enabled by rhetoric that attempts to portray 1.6 billion people as a monolith. When Republican lawmakers refer to Islam as a “political ideology,” they are demanding to strip 3.3 million Americans of their religious rights. The grotesque irony of abuse is that it conflates victim and abuser when it’s convenient. And for today’s Republicans, it is extremely convenient.
There was a moment during the anti-Trump protests of November 9 that, in spite of everything, still strikes me as particularly strange. We rallied at Columbus Circle and marched through the streets. Diverse, young, variably comfortable with confrontation, we were far from an intimidating group. No one was rude to us until we got to Times Square, where we began to chant Black Lives Matter. A blond woman walking arm-in-arm with her boyfriend laughed and pointed at us.
“Shut up, fucking terrorists,” she said.
This woman called us dangerous, but she wasn’t afraid of us. She was insulting us—insulting us in a way that cast the abuse we were protesting as retaliatory. She wasn’t saying we were dangerous. She was saying we deserved what we got.
The Pyrenean foothills look oddly cubist to me as they fly by at 186 miles per hour, all hard edges and zany angles. I stare out my window at the Spanish landscape, trying to predict when the earth will rise up in a colossal wave and swallow us whole. The mountains nearer to Zaragoza are enormous and all soft curves, sliced like limes by roads that vanish as suddenly as they appear. Every few kilometers, they are driven out by wide, bright squares of earth, where olive trees are just beginning to meet the sun.
I arrive in Madrid around a quarter to two and walk to my hostel in the rain. I am accustomed to the Manhattan grid and the twisting streets of Spanish cities fascinate me. There’s always a surprise at the end. I make an effort to see as much of Atocha as I can, diving into its deepest veins. On my way to the Prado, I let myself wander, stopping occasionally to explore an antique shop or sit down with an espresso.
I make a sharp right turn onto the Calle de las Huertas and find the words “KIKE TUMOR” spray-painted on one of the city’s elegantly decayed walls.
They found me. Me, specifically—it wasn’t Ladino.
Then again, maybe they think we are all born speaking Yiddish-inflected English. If our racists can find the global conspiracy memes, certainly theirs can. Franco himself was influenced by a Spanish translation of “Protocols,” the original anti-Semitic meme, and some of the early fascists—still giddy from the brutal imperialist African Wars—claimed that racial inferiority justified violence against the left. Far-right reactionaries took to the notion that the liberal policies of the Second Republic, such as women’s suffrage and coeducation, were orchestrated by Jews abroad. Like America’s white supremacists, they designed an ideology that helped them believe they were the real heroes, big men taking back what was rightfully theirs.
This wasn’t the danger I was expecting. As a woman walking alone, I am the frequent target of street harassment in my own city and abroad. That, I was prepared for. This felt strange and new. As a third generation New Yorker, I had never really felt attacked as a minority. But here, in a country home to few Jews, the vitriol was unmistakable. I had the impulse to play the scandalized tourist—to say to anybody who would listen, is this how you live? So I reported it to the police. At first, the policeman thought I was reporting graffiti, so I had to explain that it was against my religion.
“I will make a note of it,” the policeman said.
There was something about the officer’s coolness, his lack of embarrassment about the ordeal, that haunted me as I walked the halls of the Prado. I was reminded of the bystanders on the metro who watched a skinny guy, egged on by his two friends, shout misogynistic epithets at me for accidentally making eye contact with him. I’d been wearing my glasses and my hair was curly. I wanted to say, if this is anti-American sentiment, I kind of get it. True, a government is not its people, but at least it would make sense. I couldn’t be sure if the anger I provoked was due to my being American, Jewish, or a woman. The uncertainty made it worse.
In my strange, disassociated, third-generation way, I want to locate myself in shifting planes of privilege. I am white; my whiteness is complicated by an ancient smear. That is, unless I’m in America—Queens, America—where I have never really known this caricature of myself, except through a college friend’s Alabamian ex-boyfriend and the usual internet detritus. I access whiteness unthinkingly, the way I speak English. I am surprised when it is not understood.
On the plane, I think about winners and losers.
I think about the seeming impossibility of having more than one winner when we are told that somebody has to lose, as though safety is a finite resource. That false binary is the lie that haunts all bad politics, from the men fretting a feminized America to the sullen Confederate flag wavers. It is the willful illusion of reciprocity. If we acknowledge that the fear of humiliation that animates domestic abuse is the same fear that animates imperialist violence, the latter would lose all its glamour. If you think we’re feminized, why are you fighting us? Wouldn’t it be braver to fight someone bigger than you? A hologram, maybe?
The power of Tarana Burke’s #MeToo is that it rips down the curtain and shows us that just as there is no “model victim,” there is no standard issue abuser. You can find them in every industry and part of the world. Privilege of any sort, whether endowed by race, gender, socioeconomic status, or a proximity to trusted institutions, can mask and enable anti-social behavior in all its forms—until a movement forms to hold it to account. Seeing how patriarchy replicates itself in unfamiliar ways can help us understand that we are all just fighting for the right to feel safe.
We see the winner-loser binary in the fragility of men who cling to the doctrine that they are owed sex and semi-automatics.
We see the winner-loser binary in the scapegoating of Rep. Ilhan Omar for her stance on the Israeli occupation, and the shameful silence on Rep. Steve King’s brazen defense of white supremacy.
We see the winner-loser binary in The Law of Social Danger, in Francoism’s obsession with purging Spain of homosexuality. “[It] suggests that the regime perceived its own position within the Western international community as one of marginality and deviance,” as Dr. Gema Pérez-Sánchez writes. “In the Francoist imaginary, being marginalized, segregated to a passive role, meant that the nation was being placed in the same position as women.”
We see the winner-loser binary in the 53 percent of white women who voted for a sexual predator. Rather than join an intersectional resistance, the only functional answer to a strict binary, they aligned themselves with the powerful to seek protection from an imagined danger.
We see the winner-loser binary in the guy wearing an ironic ushanka who yells “men’s rights!” at a woman walking away from Queensboro Plaza. He’s engaging in an aspirational kind of bullying, a bid to participate in the hierarchy.
The desire for power requires someone to subjugate. It defines itself by what it can harm. When you believe that everything is a battle for dominance, oppression seems inevitable. It ceases to matter if you’re the dyspeptic son of a real estate mogul or one of the self-regarding little kings who sees himself in him. It’s a grab-or-be-grabbed world.
Through this lens, other bodies are always a danger. If you’re a woman, your body is a dangerous temptation, the site of Mike Pence’s anguished sexual psychodrama. If you’re black and male, your body is a dangerous threat, absorbing the lies that were told to justify breaking it. If you’re a Jewish girl in pre-war Poland, your body is dangerous because it is a rebuke. And if you’re a Palestinian girl in Gaza, your body is dangerous because it indicts the occupation.
Social myths about who is “dangerous” directly influence policy. Republican-sponsored legislation to cut legal immigration in half—particularly family and refugee immigration—is founded on racist rhetoric that characterizes immigrants as rapists, terrorists or any ghoul that titillates the nativist imagination. This is the strain of fantasist loathing that makes it possible for a country to separate parents from their children, then quibble over what to call the concentration camps where those children died.
Even citizenship is no guarantee of safety. After witnessing the robust BLM and #NoDAPL protest movements, Republican lawmakers unleashed a cascade of anti-protest bills that characterized protestors as dangerous—more dangerous than the industrial polluters and state-sanctioned murders today’s protests oppose. The UN tried to intervene, calling the legislation “a worrying trend.” To date, 15 anti-protest bills have been enacted, including one which protects West Virginia police from liability for deaths while dispersing “riots and unlawful assemblies.”
In 2017, bills to restrict protest were introduced in nearly 20 states; six sought to protect drivers from legal action if they “accidentally” ran over protestors. In response to the BLM protests that followed the deaths of Philando Castile and Jamar Clark, Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature introduced two bills seeking to raise the penalty for obstructing traffic to up to a year in jail or a $3,000 fine. House Speaker Kurt Daudt called the protests “dangerous,” adding, “there is a point where one person’s rights end and another’s begins.” Though only a small number of anti-protest bills have passed, they demonstrate the extremes to which lawmakers will go to protect the violence that protects their supremacy.
While not physical, it is a sense of safety they are trying to protect; the inviolability of the white male ego is a kind of safety. They want it back. The right to bodily safety and autonomy had not crossed their minds. Their greatest wish, as we know, is to return to a world where telling a woman to swallow a camera is viable political discourse.
“It could happen here” is a quaint and accurate observation. It has been happening here for a long time. As an American, I can’t claim to be scandalized by former Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s gag law, which at least had the propriety to threaten protesters with fines instead of vehicular homicide. I think of this as I try to process my own fear and anger without succumbing to convenient defeatism, which takes the edge off but helps no one. I think of this when, while walking the halls of the Prado, I make a sharp turn to come face-to-face with a sumptuous rendering of the Alhambra Decree and, against my better judgment, read the placard next to it.
I think of one of my friends and our annual apple picking trip. I think of how, one year, after dropping everyone else off and heading back toward our part of Queens, he got pulled over by the police. They asked him about his name. They asked him where he came from. They made him step out and open the trunk. It was full of apples. Macintoshes, Honeycrisps, Pink Ladies, Galas, Granny Smiths—it was late in the season, so we couldn’t find any Fujis. There were enough apples in there for ten pies or more. They questioned him for hours.
It could have been worse, my friend told his mom, who scolded him for driving home alone late at night and made him promise to bring a white friend with him next time.
“Please,” she said. “It’s just too dangerous.”