I stood in a voting booth intent on filling my ballot and getting on with my day, when my eyes misted over as I traced the black pen to mark the name of Hillary Clinton. I didn’t realize that I could get teary-eyed over my vote this year.
1 am: November 9th
I sit here typing on my computer, wide awake, not able to comprehend the swiftness of the debacle. State after state just fell like bowling pins at the arcade. Could this really be the America I knew?
Circa Jan. 1995
I jumped up and down holding a letter from the University of Pennsylvania granting me academic tuition and a merit scholarship to pursue graduate studies at an Ivy league school–the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania.
And I remember, with gratitude, how ordinary Americans treated me as an international student. My eyes tear up again as I think of the writing center volunteers who helped correct my British English to American English, who emailed me to check on my grades time and again. Doctoral students who grew up in the Midwest and the American South, who had nothing in common, went out of their way to help this timid “brown” student who was trying to do well academically in an unfamiliar college system.
And, then, there were the swimmers I became friends with. I searched on campus for a place to practice Bharatanatyam during the day and found this corner by the Penn swimming pool, which worked perfectly. And, there, I happily danced to songs from a faraway land. Surely, it sounded and looked different to the swimmers who walked by me every single day – and yet, with their openness of heart they did not treat me differently. I practiced right there by the swimming pool through my first cold winter.
Those first few months in a new country were tough. And through the meaningful, but telling, gestures of ordinary Americans inside and outside of the university setting, I found my voice in this country. I never felt marked because of my “brownness.” Instead, I raised my voice loud and clear for I was sure that America listened.
1:30 am: November 9th
And today, after years of feeling like I had a voice at the table, I am speechless.
And I will tell you who I need to speak to when the sun rises.
Not my sister-in-law Chris, who is Caucasian, who was crying on the phone from Singapore stunned by the results. Not my dear friend Meena who was upset and texted, “I don’t want to talk about it.” Not my high school friends on Whatsapp who commiserated with me through texts from all over the world.
No – I should be talking to the men and women who voted for Trump.
I saw their votes rack up on the TV screen all evening, slowly but surely painting tiny slivers of red which ultimately culminated in swaths of bold red everywhere. I want to ask them, “Your pain is so deep that you looked beyond a man who dodged taxes, who bragged about molesting women, and threatened to put his opponent in jail?” And, each one of them is bound to answer with a resounding “yes!”
Clearly, they have strong convictions and a real pain that I know nothing about. I’m not talking about the “knowing” where I pontificated in my living room surrounded by like-minded people. Maybe just as much as I blamed the “other” side for living in an “unreal” Universe, I am guilty of the same crime.
I live in the balmy state of California, always sure of the thick swath of blue that is sure to swaddle me. With tonight’s election results, the Supreme Court is turning “red.” Ku Klux Klan members are tweeting about the Presidential election with impunity and their tweets are not being dismissed as coming out of a fringe group. The Alt-Right is here to stay.
Roe v. Wade. Freedom for minorities and immigrants. LGBT rights. These are just a few that matter dearly to me in a really long list of issues. It’s too hard for me to even think about the list anymore. Who is going to listen, anyway?
I lie awake wondering, Will I have a voice in this “new” America?