by Natalie Charlesworth
Nov. 8, 2016: I sat in math class, frantically checking the presidential election polls every chance that I got. The numbers were so close. Hillary, Trump, Hillary again, and then back to Trump. Jumbled thoughts like ping-pong balls bounced back and forth in my mind. My palms, sweaty. My anxiety increasingly getting worse. I began to wonder, why I had even decided to attend class that day? I then put my phone down and got back to what I should have been doing –focusing on math.
As I walked into the house later that evening, I saw my mom sitting on the couch. I could tell just by looking at her that she was nervous. Her freckled face pale, and her eyes watery. We sat in silence for awhile, not knowing what to say. The first words spoken came from my mouth: “Donald Trump isn’t even the scariest part of this election; it’s that his blatant racism, homophobia and misogyny wasn’t a deal breaker for his supporters. Instead of putting them off, they have interpreted his words as validation to say or do whatever they want.’’
I tried to understand how people could be so intolerant of others. At around 9:30 p.m. we turned off the TV. The polls had not yet closed, but we just couldn’t bear to continue watching.
I woke up the next morning to several texts from horrified and angry friends. A few really shook me. Friends of mine had heard men in the streets of New York City, Chicago and Los Angeles say they were glad Trump had won because now they could, “grab women by the pussy’’ or “do whatever they wanted to women.’’ One of my closest friends called me crying because someone whom she had considered to be a close friend had jokingly told her that she would “come visit her in Mexico.’’ It seemed absurd that someone could think of something so demeaning, and then actually say it out loud, especially at such a vulnerable time for Latino immigrants all over the country.
The walls seemed to close in around me. I became lost in a whirlwind of thoughts about my future as a woman and person of color in America. How this single day and decision could drastically change the lives of the people I love, as well as my own. I feared that the safety of my younger brother, who is of African-American and Ukranian descent, was more at risk than it ever had been before. My brother and I are both adopted, and also happen to both be first-generation U.S. citizens (his mother having immigrated from the Ukraine, and mine from Thailand). My stomach was in knots. I realized that neither of us knew if our birth mothers and their families were U.S. citizens. Would my gay uncle and many of my LGBTQ friends have to face even more homophobia? Would the progress that we had made for their community start to disappear? It just felt like for every couple of steps that we had taken forward toward equality, there were now many more steps back.
The next few days were filled with highs and lows. In the news there were hundreds of thousands of people protesting. They had gathered along main streets in big and small cities. Sadly, along with that came harassment and hate crimes from the other side. Swastikas, hate speech, threats of lynchings, chants of “build that wall,’’ people beaten, hijabs ripped off women’s heads, young girls threatened and assaulted by groups of adult men, water fountains labelled with “whites only,” people of color physically pushed off of buses. The list goes on and on.
I was told by multiple people that by being worried, others, as well as myself, were exaggerating and making the situation appear worse than it actually was. I didn’t and still don’t know how worrying about the lives and safety of the people I love is wrong. There is a threat of imminent danger. Families may be torn apart. Young children are having to try to understand how and why their parents could be taken from them.
I feel like the aftermath of the election has sucked all the air out of my lungs, and I’m just trying to figure out how to breathe again. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way, but I hope that in the wake of this surprising and devastating election, we will become more united as a country than ever before. I hope that we will stand up together and use our power to defeat the ones trying to divide us.
Natalie Charlesworth, 16, is a Butte CORE charter-school student from Chico. She wrote this essay for a Butte College English class.