COMMENTARY: Attending a presidential inauguration has been a dream of mine since I was a little girl, but one that felt far off and unattainable. I remember watching past presidential inaugurations on television in awe, wondering what it would be like to attend an inauguration in person.
When I was given the opportunity to attend the inauguration of Donald Trump, I jumped at the opportunity.
In the days leading up to the event, I began hearing reports of planned protests and threats of violence. Friends and family began calling to try and convince me not to attend the inauguration out of concern for my safety.
The excitement I once felt soon turned to fear. It seemed that the acrimony and division that our nation experienced during the past election cycle would not subside after Super Tuesday as I had hoped.
For a moment, I thought of canceling my trip and giving away my ticket. Refusing to give in to fear, I stuck to my original plan, packed my bags and headed for our nation’s capital for an experience that would forever change my perspective and renew my hope.
The morning of the inauguration was filled with countless traffic detours, a lost Uber driver, multiple security checkpoints and numerous blocks for me to walk. After what felt like an endless journey, I finally made it inside the gates to the seating area, where I would witness the peaceful transition of power from one elected leader to the next. After all of the hurriedness and frenzy of the morning, the sight of our majestic Capital stopped me in my tracks. For the first time that morning, the reality that I would soon witness history being made in person fully sunk in, and a powerful wave of emotion swept over me. I stood frozen in that moment and thought of my own history.
I thought of my maternal grandfather, who stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day and years later would serve as campaign manager to the first Hispanic to hold elected office in Hobbs. I thought of my maternal grandmother, a Mexican immigrant who became a U.S. citizen, and never took for granted her right to vote or to speak up for herself.
I thought of my paternal grandparents, who worked as farm laborers, spoke broken English and never had the opportunity to complete a formal education. I thought of my father, who as a young entrepreneur in the 1960s was forced to sleep in his car while working in a neighboring state. He could not rent a hotel room because he was Hispanic.
In that moment, I felt extreme gratitude, humility and patriotism.
Once seated, I listened to the military bands play, watched as dignitaries were introduced and escorted to their seats, took the obligatory “selfie,” soaked up all the beauty and grandeur of this historic event, and watched Donald Trump take the oath of office as he became our 45th president. The remainder of the day and evening were a flurry of getting from place to place and attending the inaugural parade and ball. I will be forever grateful that I witnessed these events and participated in the day’s activities, but I am equally grateful for the people I encountered.
Throughout the day I came across men and women from all over our country who came to either celebrate or protest. Listening to news reports prior to my arrival left me unsure of what I might find and concerned that I might encounter violence and danger.
While there were reports of violence and the destruction of property, my experience was very different. I had the chance to talk to many individuals who held vastly different beliefs and were there for different reasons than me. When we would initially began to talk, I sensed we both felt apprehensive, but soon the apprehension gave way to relief as heartfelt conversations occurred. These conversations seemed to happen every time I turned around — the plane ride to D.C., a reception the night before, on sidewalks, and in the corner coffee shop.
Each time I engaged in one of these conversations, I saw fear give way to respect as each of us explained why we felt it was important to attend these events. Listening to the other person’s passionate explanation did not change my opinions or make me question my own beliefs, but it did teach me a valuable lesson. If a conservative Latina from rural southeastern New Mexico can strike up a respectful, meaningful conversation on the streets of D.C. with a total stranger who holds extremely different beliefs, then respectful, meaningful conversations can occur throughout this nation. It isn’t up to our government or elected officials to start these conversations. It is up to you and me.
My hope for the next four years is that each of us will take the time to truly listen to our neighbors. In doing so, I believe we will discover that we have more in common than we ever thought possible and that we are not as fractured as we have been led to believe. Our best days are still ahead of us, not because of an elected official or some new proposed legislation, but because of the heart and spirit of the American people.
Bernadette Granger has been involved in New Mexico politics since high school. She lives and works in southeastern New Mexico. She is also the secretary for the Republican Party of New Mexico, but she’s speaking in this column for herself, not for RPNM.