We were horrified by Trump’s election. So please don’t give up on the United States
I read about Irish people leaving, but for me and my family Boston is home
Standing up for others: Sean Rogers with sons Henry and Eoin in Boston
I read in Irish newspapers online about a “new America” since Donald Trump’s election, and about how many Irish people living here are leaving or considering returning home. But now is not the time to pack and run for Ireland. I have many reasons to stay in the United States.
Things have certainly changed since I made my first steps on to US soil, back in 1983. The images that greeted me are as vivid as when I circled Boston aboard flight EI 132 in June that year: baseball fields, backyard swimming pools and shimmering sea. I was arriving in the United States for the first time, passport in hand and a newly minted J1 visa stamped on page 3. The long summer stretched out. I was full of excitement and awe.
In downtown Boston I earned more money than I ever imagined. Jogging along the Charles River I could make out Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University on one bank, and Boston University and Northeastern University opposite. Rowing crews from every university boathouse were on the Charles River as dawn broke, with the coxswains shouting, “Pull . . . pull . . . pull.”
Boston was alive from dawn to dusk, with a mass of young students like me making their way through the heat of the day, all bright clothes and shining tans. Boston was, and still is, a running city. Each day thousands of its residents run along the Charles, which meanders between metropolitan Boston and Cambridge, where I now live with my two boys, 15-year-old Eoin and 12-year-old Henry, and my wife, Ruth.
We have a direct view from our top-floor window to the skyscrapers in downtown Boston, where she grew up.
I work in the tech sector, in security. I’ve travelled across this great country to more states than my American-born wife has, and I’ve visited and worked in small towns and large cities from sea to shining sea.
Trump’s election was a shock to me, my family and many of my friends. Shock is an understatement; it has been devastating beyond belief. It feels like official America is at war with my friends and neighbours. Although I don’t know many undocumented people today, they are all around me – in shops, on building sites and looking after our children.
But the United States I know has not changed. In fact it has got stronger and more united in opposition. Bringing my 12-year-old on to the Boston streets for the recent women’s march is something I won’t forget. He made his own sign and marched through the crowds, waving at cameras and refusing to leave. He’s very aware of what’s going on and of the necessity to protest and stand up for himself and for others. What an education he’s getting.
If I thought I knew my neighbours, friends and relatives before, I was wrong. Some even voted for Trump. But the outpouring of humour and the sense of togetherness since his election have been eye-opening. The schools are supporting our children, providing additional services for any family that feels they could be affected by Trump’s policies.
Our cities are also standing with the newly disenfranchised affected by Trump’s executive orders on immigration. Boston’s mayor, Marty Walsh, and New York City’s, Bill de Blasio, both made strong statements in support of immigrants living and working in their cities.
There are still obvious faults with American society that we Irish immediately react to, such as the expense and risk associated with the healthcare system, or the prevalence of guns in open view in our daily interactions with police at roadworks, public gatherings and even street parties.
But there is so much still to stay for. For me the top attraction is a great public education system in Massachusetts. Special-needs children have the right to professional assessment within a set timeframe, books and public transport are provided at no cost, learning is not by rote, and assessment is continuous.
The system strives to give equal opportunities to learn no matter where children come from, what languages they speak or what their home environments look like. It encourages them to think, not just regurgitate, and to pursue what they love.
My children’s school catalogue looks more like an Irish university prospectus. Reading, writing and arithmetic is supplemented with electives such as biotechnology, robotics, car maintenance, carpentry, modern dance and piano. Advanced classes are available free of charge at local universities, including Harvard. At middle school, which caters for children from the age of 11 to 13, afterschool clubs include drumming, orchestra, jazz band, computer gaming, skateboarding and debating.
Boston and Cambridge are diverse and fun to live in. Ethnic festivals continue year round, with street markets, parades and block parties. Our favourite is the Honk Street Band Festival, in Somerville, and the multiple Irish festivals, like the Burren Backroom Irish music series, in Davis Square.
This is the time to stay in the United States – and support her when she needs us. Safety is a concern no matter where in the world you live. Growing up in a Border county, I experienced more bomb scares in Newry than I ever have in Boston, even after marathon day in 2013.
In future years we may be asked if we were in the US under Trump. If we say yes they’ll want to know what it was like and how we resisted. Did we play a part in stopping the wave of populism that attempted to undermine the media, our schools, the courts and our open society?
Greetings from the front lines.