“The struggle is a continuance, but you were built for this shit” Junot Diaz at the Charlottesville Human Ties Festival, Fall 2016
The excitement in the air on Tuesday November 8th was almost tangible. Students at the University of Virginia lined up at the polls as early as 6am, many of us voting in our first presidential election. Professors emphasized the importance of the vote. Sorority girls snapped photos complete with donkey and elephant filters. Articles were shared. Statuses were updated. Stickers were distributed. We had watched the news; read The Skimm; seen the campaign advertisements; followed every scandal and twist and turn this tumultuous election cycle brought before us. We were educated on the issues. We worked hard, and we were prepared.
The electoral votes began trickling in, and we (or at least the majority of us in Albemarle County, Virginia according to Poltico) felt our hearts drop to the floor, and our blood run cold. Our excitement and hope turned to ash in our mouths. A Trump victory had ensued.
For countless students, myself included, this election became about more than tax plans, trade deals, and the right to choose. Regardless of party affiliation this election became about what America does or does not tolerate. It was about whether we support anti-establishment candidates, who we welcome into our country, and on what grounds. It was about how we are supposed to build communities, ensure peace, promote education, and protect our citizens from violence. It was about making history.
And we chose his history. He was the choice we made.
As a student leader and political activist I found my peers demanding of me and of themselves:
How can I reconcile with my identity as an Asian American knowing that the majority of my country doesn’t want me?
I am not welcome here.
Was the American dream just a wasted effort?
Why don’t I belong?
My voice doesn’t matter compared to theirs.
This isn’t my home.
I am scared and don’t know what tomorrow brings.
I felt myself being sucked into the rabbit hole of despair, consumed by the weight of the heartbreak my closest friends were experiencing, powerless to heal them or ameliorate their grief. I became involved in advocacy and social justice to prevent this very sense of hopelessness from touching the lives of those I love, but it happened anyways.
To the marginalized groups at UVA that were ultimately hurt by the outcome of this election: Do not give up, for the fight has not stopped and it cannot end with us.
I was raised by two immigrant parents whose every accomplishment served as validation for their existence. Their stories of heartbreak, isolation, racism, and exhaustion are as essential to my identity as the genes I inherited from them. My father came here as an orphan following the fall of Saigon. My mother moved here when she was twelve and was asked if she lived in trees.
But for every tale of hardship is one of triumph. My father mastered the english language in less than 5 years, becoming salutatorian of his high school. My mother won the spelling bee the year she came to this country--her winning word was immigrant. My parents juggled working multiple jobs while being full time students to earn their college degrees. I ask them what their greatest life accomplishment is; what, in their long list of achievements, are they most proud of?
They say unanimously and consistently that it is my brother and me. It is watching us chase our dreams with wild abandon, to have created something better than themselves, to watch as we charge into the future with a confidence absolutely inaccessible to them at our age, and still overwhelmingly denied to our relatives abroad.
To the women, LGBTQ students, students of color, and immigrants of UVA and this country, I beg of you one thing: remember who you are, and where you have come from. Remember that our communities have always faced hurdles. We have always been pushed away, violated, ostracized and de-valued. We are a community of struggle. This struggle did not begin with this election, and it will not end with it.
But we are built for this. We have always faced obstacles, and we have always overcome them. We have always outlasted, outsmarted, and outnumbered those who wish to keep us on our knees. We are the sons and daughters of fighters and survivors. For every moment that someone told us we were lazy, strange, undeserving, unintelligent, and unwelcome, there was a moment that we proved them wrong. With chains around our ankles we built railroads that linked our country together. With heavy hearts we created art and music that inspired and connected. With broken bones and blackened eyes we earned the right to vote. With little recognition and sparse equipment we made scientific discoveries that helped millions. We wrote books and advocated for policies that changed the world. We lost our brothers and sons and fathers in wars. We made a place for ourselves in this country, and we should be proud of it.
We are the deliverance of all those who came before us, just as surely as we will be the heroes of those who come after us. But that can not happen if we let today defeat us. Find solace in one another, for while the struggle is a continuance, it is not one to be suffered through alone.
***Disclaimer: this article is an opinion piece and does not explicitly represent the political ideas or affiliations of Asian Student Union or the University of Virginia***