Four days before Election Night, it is a clear sky in St. Petersburg, Florida. I chat with a journalist friend at a Poytner seminar.
“I have to confess. I wasn’t so interested in politics, but with everything going on in this nation now, I have to care.” It would break my friends’ hearts if a man with racist rhetoric won the office of the nation.
“So essentially, what happened was that I…”
My Muslim-American journalist friend finished the thought: “You woke.”
The seminar partnered us up for an editorial-writing activity. The goal: Decide on the presidential candidate and defend your reasons.
This was a Minority Writers’ Seminar. We all looked at each other. We knew who we picked. Or who we didn’t pick.
Days before the election, a surge of optimism spurred this nostalgic Facebook status update:
“With everything going on in this nation, I can remember that my late father and I used to dream that I'll be the first female President. But first Vietnamese-American President is within possibility. That is, if I choose to revert to old elementary school political aspirations.”
I had faith then that the nation would choose Hillary Clinton, not blameless but qualified. A white woman did not stand as the ideal beacon of feminist process, but she would have been a runner with the torch. I envisioned her passing that presidential torch to a woman of color. The win of a white woman meant I could live to see a female Asian president (even if it wasn’t me).
Then, one by one, the states bled on Election Night. My state Texas bled too. I was too lucid to pretend it was a nightmare. I fell onto my bed, hoping to wake to better news.
But when I woke, I made this Facebook status update:
“This morning, for less than a minute, I stepped outside without a jacket. The beats of the neighborhood have gone on. New houses are being built. Cars are passing by. And I pretended that nothing in this world has changed, that nothing in the status quo had been disturbed. Then I had to go back inside to the sound of CNN.”
The sight of my neighborhood sustained the illusion that all remained the same, even when words like “shock,” “upset,” and “fear,” played on the news.
When Trump won, it meant nearly forgoing my faith in my nation.
It did not mean receiving a knife threat and the seething whisper of “deport them all” from a passerby. That terror belonged to my friend in Miami, who forced herself to doff her hijab so she could walk the streets with a little more security.
It did not mean the raw anger of seeing the government perpetuate racism. That anger belonged to a journalist friend who had to constantly explain why he needs “Black Lives Matter.” He has to watch as white supremacists dominate office positions in the White House—the home that Michelle Obama acknowledged was built by the hands of slaves.
It did not mean dreading a family split. That panic was for friends, the young Dreamers, on Facebook crying out, “I can’t stand to be separated from my parents again.”
What did belong to me was my disgust when I learned that Trump mocked the Asian accent when “negotiating with Japan and China” in the mocking voice of the trademark broken-English stereotype, “We want deal.” It plucked at nerves, old memories: I had classmates who joked that “ching-chang-chongs” must be part of a Vietnamese language I barely speak. If a pal of mine mocked the broken-English, I would have chided, “Not funny.” But on television, a crowd laughed with Trump.
When he called for the scrutinizing of Syrian refugees, I took it personally. No, the Vietnamese immigration story was not entirely identical to the Syrian experience. But it had such historical parallels to the story of the boat people who fled the Vietnam War—my mother’s story. She and her family risked drowning and the gunfire of pirates to reach safe haven in America. Now my mother’s safe haven would be supervised by a powerful figure who wielded words to embolden pervasive intimidation.
Before Election Night, the Poytner Minority Writer’s Seminar argued about the political correctness of including “Minority” in the name of the Seminar.
“In America, the minority are becoming the majority,” a journalist remarked. Nearly the entire room nodded.
That was two days before Trump’s victory. Despite the minorities apparently evolving into the majority, Trump’s win truly reduced us to the position of minorities, the “ones with less power.” I saw my friends being shoved into the margins of American concerns.
I am still waking up from a nightmare. Sleeping on it won’t help. My friends can’t sleep peacefully through four restless years. I have to stay alert with them.