It takes a long time to feel at home in another country. It takes mispronunciations, catching up on a lot of pop culture to understand the references, adapting to a different kind of humor, eating unfamiliar food and walking other roads. It takes a family in both countries, whether tied by blood or by adventures and bad days at work and difficult prelims and the question of what to do next. It takes a long time, and it happens gradually; you only realize it when it’s already happened, its making slips away in days and seasons. To me, it’s happened. I can’t say exactly when – maybe it was sophomore year, maybe only two semesters ago – but it happened, and it made me very happy.
When I woke up on Wednesday, after the election, I stopped feeling at home. And if the process of familiarization had been slow and silent, the rupture was sudden and painful. I felt the knot in my throat that was always there the first weeks I spent away from home, and I was homesick and scared. I felt the uncanniness in the walls around me, home had become a place I was stuck in, and at the same time a place I might have to leave. Even when coming from a comfortable reality, even with somewhere to go to, I felt scared. But on campus, and around the country, I’ve seen a lot of hope – hopeful resistance. There is no need for me to repeat what has been said, but I do have something to add to the hope thing: this story is a bildungsroman with good grades, Hillary Clinton, and a small high school.
I’ve always excelled in school. Since elementary school, I’ve liked studying and pairing that with an ambitious character has resulted in a series of academic successes and papers that I was proud to show my parents. It has resulted also in a competitiveness sometimes excessive, in discipline and perfectionisms. In Italian, there is a word to designate someone with all these characteristics: “secchiona”. It is a word that is offensive without being obscene, and is not translatable in English (a know-it-all comes close, but does not encompass all its unpleasant implications and the whispers in the back of the classroom, and my classmates’ excitation every time I got an answer wrong). In a way that was silent rather than unconscious, I spent a large portion of my high school career trying to put a distance between that definition and who I was: I always shared my homework with people who barely waved when they saw me outside of school; I invited people over to my house to help them translate Greek and Latin, the same people who, when I came back from being abroad, said that they were so done with me talking about my experience. I pretended to not hear the comments, I tried to put myself above them. I underplayed the importance of my studies, how much I cared about and loved to learned. When someone I loved told me to step aside and stop being overbearing and stop trying to outshine everyone and let other people have their time, I stayed quiet, and did not like who I was. This whole thing never had a resolution; my closure happened halfway between two continents, and Cornell made it all disappear. Looking back on high school still hurts a bit sometimes.
Hillary is also a secchiona. She was prepared, she did the homework, she worked hard. But she was labeled as overly ambitious, selfish, egotistic. Her fault was outshining the mediocre. However, she did not bend to the rules of the rhetoric by which one – especially a woman – should always underplay how hard she works and especially how much she cares. And while it broke my heart to see her lose the presidential election, I am grateful to her. Not only because she has been mine and many other young women’s champion, but because in owning up her being a secchiona she spoke to me. She said that most times the bullies win, but that is not a good reason to play by their rules, to conform to a less intimidating and successful version of you that they would like to see. From me, and every other secchiona all over the world, thank you. If I know that I can be myself, I know I am still home.