Mattie Jo Cowsert
Gifted Camp: A Reflection
The other day, I was walking home and listening to a Podcast about Donald Trump ruining everything and my memory was sparked. At this point, the terrible things Donald Trump says have become so normal I just laugh out loud to myself and then go punch things. I’m not even shocked anymore. But when I listened to these particular excerpts in regard to immigration, the raucous cheering that followed his statements made my stomach sink. FLASHBACK.
When I was 13 years old (the Summer before my parents sent me off to Theatre Camp with super rich children), I attended a wonderful camp for normal-socio-economic-gifted-kids called Summer Scape.
SummerScape was exactly what you would imagine a camp of intellectually-advanced teenagers to be: an abundance of sexual expression and appreciation for very good humor. Also late night card games over energy drinks. These were kids I actually liked and enjoyed being around (although the overt sexuality did make my little pure heart only little uncomfortable. That did not, however, stop me from dressing as Mannie from Degrassi for the costume dance. Full on hip huggers with bright orange snap thong out the top. Okay fine. I LOVED the sexual expression) I didn’t have to pretend to be lamer than I actually was in order to level with the “cool kids” at my school. SWEET FREEDOM!
Here's Mannie in all her hip hugging glory. I wish I could show you a picture of my costume inspired by this episode.
I had the hat and everything. But unfortunately we only had disposable cameras back then and I think the only photographic proof of this evening is in my memory box on Acacia Club. How sad.
They held these mock elections - to teach us about politics, I guess. I didn’t really pay attention. I don’t remember anything about the Democratic candidate (who cares about Democrats? I’m a Christian, DAMMIT), but I remember the Republican candidate very well. He was some white kid from the St. Louis area who once told me my clothes from Old Navy were from “the poor man’s GAP." “Uh. Okay. Well you’re totally in the closet, dude. Why else would you insult my cheap clothes? Dick.” I obviously didn’t say this, because being in the closet as a teenager in Missouri is hard enough (I even knew that then). So I just laughed and we added eachother on MSN Messenger.
Near the end of SummerScape, the bipartisan candidates gave their final speeches before we voted. Again, I don’t remember anything except this one line that White Kid from STL delivered:
“And I promise to end immigration in the United States. FOR GOOD!” applause applause applause
I’m sure I even applauded. He was a Republican, afterall. Of course he was getting my vote! But when I looked over at my friend Angelina, she was NOT laughing. Angelina was near tears. And she stormed out of the auditorium very dramatically. Even then, it didn’t occur to me why she was so upset. What did he say wrong? Oh her name is Angelina Guadalupe and she and her family are from Mexico? Still don’t get it. Did I miss something? (Remember, 13. I don’t even really understand that black people are Americans at this point.)
Later, after Angelina expressed her frustration to the SummerScape counselors, she explained to me why she was so upset.
Angelina: "He can’t say things like that! Even in a mock vote. That is terrible!"
Me: "Uh…oh yeah, I guess that is pretty bad, huh? But do you really want to get him in trouble? Won’t that make him, like, super mad at you? And maybe all the people who were going to vote for him?"
Angelina: "I DON’T CARE."
Wow. Okay. A very angry girl who is going to express her opinion without fear of the consequences. I would never do that (again. 13)
But DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE COUNSELORS DID? They made White Kid from STL get on stage the next day and apologize TO THE ENTIRE CAMP. He cried. He actually cried on stage because he was so remorseful and sorry. And probably super duper embarrassed for being an ass and getting in trouble because of a girl. He claimed he meant to say “illegal immigration”, not just “immigration” and maybe he did. Regardless, his ass was terrified of Angelina.
It just strikes me as totally crazy, you know? It was 2003, so we were still in a post 9/11 climate. Me and my friends thought all Muslims were terrorists, and fear of outsiders was heightened (sounds familiar…). AND STILL. In the most rural of America, a group of really smart gifted camp counselors called a kid out for suggesting we alienate all people who are not like us. Who are not “from here”. Whom we are afraid of because they’re different. Who don’t look like us or speak like us. About inciting joy at the expense of hate towards these people. They pulled him aside and were like “Hey, man. That was really uncool. Let’s learn a lesson about racism and ethnocentrism.” And then he had to do what a real person of character does when they do something wrong: he publicly apologized and corrected himself.
MIND FUCKING BLOWN.
So I guess the take away here is that even the President of the United States isn’t held to the basic principle of integrity we were taught at SummerScape as 13 year olds. And grown-ass people are no longer held to these standards, either. For they hear what he says, LIKE IT, and support him. Also, let’s be clear, Angelina went on to put herself completely through college, while working full time (that’s way more than I did. And I love complaining about how much I had to balance during college). It took her more than the average 4 years but she did it. She’s a way harder worker than most people I know, and doesn’t complain. She is such a strong woman who never let anyone take advantage of, or treat her as lesser than she knows she’s worth. She’s taught me SO MUCH about self-love and perseverance. But you know. Let’s just not let her in because she’s a burden on society, brings drugs, and will probably rape people.
My heart extends to those counselors. Thank you for doing what you did. I can’t believe we now live in a world where our president acts like a reckless, ignorant, 13 year old boy in a mock election at Summer Camp, and people are still like “yeah, we like him. Go America!!!”
Immigration issues are complicated, sure. But hate rhetoric is not.
We do not need a wall. We do not need a Muslim ban. We need to stop insisting there’s an “us” and “them”. Because, my German/Irish family and community, were once the outsiders. We don’t like people who aren’t like us because at one point we were forced out of our land, resettled on a more remote location, and protected ourselves by living life with people who were also German or Irish immigrants. We were once those who needed relief from the poor conditions of your home country. We are not simply American. We are our ancestors who traveled here, just like current immigrants. We are our ancestors who were exploited by working in terrible conditions due to rich people at the top taking advantage of their desperation. We are the result of our ancestors persevering through the alienation of “other” and making a better life for the generations to follow. If we want to claim being a true American, maybe we should talk to the actual Native Americans? At least those who survived that genocide we put them through in order to steal their land.
So yes. We are American. And our skin happens to be white so we get to complain about infiltration. Lucky us.