I remember going to ESL classes in a suburb of Houston when I was in first grade. My family was promised an American dream, but that meant learning English first, and that seemed fair so we complied. After my English got better, my first grade teacher, Mrs. B, would routinely visit our house and bring books. As a family that didn’t have many means at the time, free new books were great as I tried to better my grasp on the English language. It would be years until I discovered that all the books were teaching Christianity, in Mrs. B’s attempts to convert us. My father had a beard when we lived in Texas, and that was enough for store security to stop him and take him into questioning, even when he was being accompanied by 6-year-old me. There was a disheartening level of discrimination in Texas, but we simply brushed it off due to it being the south, and knew that the future held something better for us.
We fine-tuned our English and my father shaved his beard into a goatee, we were taking the steps to be accepted.
Soon enough, my family became “more American,” we began to assimilate to the culture and my father’s job took us to a suburb of Cleveland. It wasn’t perfect, but it was definitely better than Texas. Shortly afterwards, 9/11 happened and things were no longer “just fine.” My mom used to wear traditional Indian suits and salwars and she started getting stopped in public places. “Where’s that dress from?” would be the first question, followed by “Oh yeah, whose side is India on?” We chalked it up to naiveté and lack of exposure to Indians. The constant stares were annoying, as were the abundant laughs anytime someone heard us speak in Hindi or Punjabi, but my sister and I were getting a good education, and my parents were seeing upward mobility.
My mother started wearing jeans and shirts more often, and my dad started watching American sports so he could talk about “the game.” We took more steps to be accepted.
We moved to Illinois in 2006, and I got an incredible stream of hope in 2008 as I saw my senator get elected to the White House. His name was harder to pronounce than mine, but he taught me that the American dream was more real than ever. I worked on that campaign before I even became an American citizen, and I cried tears of joy as he took the stage in Grant Park.
Eventually, I learned English, and speak it better than most Trump supporters. I got rid of my Indian accent and adopted a new one in America. But that still wasn’t enough. My family gave away Halloween candy just 10 days ago, we’ll still celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas. But that won’t be enough.
I’m an optimist by nature. I believe in dreaming big and taking risks, because you’ve ultimately got one life to make yourself as happy as possible. But tonight, I am completely broken. I’m sitting at my desk, holding back tears as half of the nation has told me that despite all our efforts, we probably shouldn’t be here.
Electing Trump isn’t about politics, it’s about a lack of basic human empathy. He’s alienated Hispanics, Muslims, LGBT groups, women, and every other minority group that exists. When you cast your ballot for Trump, you may not consider yourself sexist or racist, but you openly voted for it.
We’ve openly elected a bully who teaches our children that it’s OK to mock the disabled, it’s OK to grab women by the pussy (if you have a problem with me using the word but not the sentiment behind the phrase, you’re the problem), it’s OK to systematically block people from a certain religion from entering the country. We’ve supported the people who made fun of the way my mother dressed, or the way I spoke English. I fear for my LGBT friends, my Muslim friends, and my family whose currently living in a conservative suburb.
I’m completely shattered right now, the tears have started to roll down, but that’s also why we have to retain hope. It’s the friends for whom we fear that need us the most right now. We can’t move to Canada, or Mexico, or anywhere else. We need to plant our feet stronger because Trump isn’t the worst of it. He’s simply normalized the vitriol that provided the foundation for his campaign. There will be more of him, and now that they’ve been validated they’ll be even worse.
As we all take a moment to gather ourselves and cope with the emotional toll brought by this election, as the sun rises we must realize that even a hobbled America is still the greatest place to be, and it’s up to us to fight back and actually make America the greatest. Again.