By Moyna Ghosh
Art: Hillary For… By Moyna Ghosh
Summer of 2016
“In 2004, I cast my vote for John Kerry, and when I found out he lost, I was overcome by despair. I realized that, yes, participating in a democracy can be exhilarating. But it can be heartbreaking, too.”
– Aasif Mandvi, Indian American comedian
I’m watching the DNC on television and I’m hearing the voices of LGBT rights activist Sarah McBride, civil rights leader John Lewis, and the father of a fallen U.S. soldier, Khizr Khan. Donald Trump’s hate speech towards certain identity groups, particularly my identity groups, fuels my outrage. I am the child of divorced immigrants. Before my mother came to America, my grandfather always wanted her to become a tea taster for Lipton. She chose a career in advertising for swanky, Calcuttan media groups. She went around grabbing coffee with reporters and potential advertisers. She fondly remembers those times as her “real college experience.” She now works at an engineering company almost 9 hours a day. In my younger years, she enrolled me in various daycares, drove me to activities like viola lessons and math tutoring, and made dinner immediately after picking me up.
A white man like Donald Trump has made it clear that he can never understand the lives of people like my mother and me. By appealing to white nationalists, he is blatantly rejecting me. As I understand it, the exclusion and otherness I’ve always felt in the white spaces of my hometown in Georgia and my college in New York will be amplified under such an administration.
A couple of days after the DNC, I apply to intern for the Clinton campaign (just for kicks). It’s a position I never thought I’d receive.
August 31, 2016: Brooklyn
“No matter how high a wall we build to keep intruders out, no matter how strictly we exclude outsiders, no matter how much we rewrite history to suit us, we just end up damaging and hurting ourselves.”
-Haruki Murakami, on accepting the Hans Christian Andersen literary award on November 1st, 2016
I leave my apartment three hours early even though the trains only take about an hour and fifty minutes to get to Brooklyn. Obviously, I’m early. Obviously, I’m anxious. But mishaps occur–I get lost near Grand Central by exiting through the wrong door, my phone’s GPS malfunctions randomly, and then I try to find the building, which has two addresses. One on 1 Pierrepont Plaza and one on 300 Cadman Plaza. I walk around the building eight times (because I’m so damn early) until it’s 11:45 AM and almost time for my orientation. My feet are already hurting from the pair of red rainproof flats that I thought paired well with my professional outfit. I tell myself that I won’t be here for more than a couple of hours because it’s only an orientation meeting.
When I enter the headquarters, I worry that I’m not white enough, tall enough, or rich enough to have a place in this building. I stand with a group of law students who are taking a semester off from colleges like Harvard and Columbia just to work on this campaign. They’re talking about how hard the practice LSAT is and how they had to take a test to join the campaign’s IT department. I feel overwhelmingly unqualified. I don’t even have a major.
As orientation begins, we’re told the ground rules. Part time interns, or students who did not take a semester off, are encouraged to work on weekends to make up for the lost time of not being able to dedicate their whole lives to the campaign. I did not expect to begin working on the day of orientation. I did not expect to sit around the office and wait for an aid to ask me to blow up balloons for a “deployment” party. But I meet my too-busy-to-meet supervisor who tells me I should leave at 6 PM, regardless of whether or not I have anything to do after the orientation. We procure a list of schedules and duties on the days that I’d come into the office. I’d work on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10:30 AM to 7 PM and on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 AM to 6 PM. Despite being surprised by the long hours, I tell myself that I’m doing something to prevent the most unqualified political candidate from winning a national election. I’m proud of myself. I’m finally one of those Desi kids whose parents can brag about at cultural events.
November 8th, 2016: 300 Cadman Plaza & The Javits Convention Center
“Too many of my friends gave their lives for our right to vote. I think about them every time I step into the voting booth…We must never, ever forget their sacrifice. We must honor it and cherish it. Tell your friends: We must vote.”
– Congressman John Lewis
I take a shift from 9 AM to 7 PM in the lobby of 300 Cadman Plaza helping out with voter protection. Between dealing with eager supporters who want merchandise and long conversations with my fellow interns and supervisors, I have no idea what is going on in the news. I text my family and friends that “we’re hopeful” and that “HQ is crazy today”.
By 7 PM we’re at Javits where Hillary will give her victory speech. We walk into a glass structure illuminated blue. It’s packed with supporters like Janet Mock, Keegan Michael Key, and Cecil Richards. I livestream the space on Snapchat and Facebook. I’m brought back down to reality when an old high school friend of mine comments on my post, “Hold your horses…Are you watching the map? It looks awful.” I angrily refuse to acknowledge it. But as the hours go by, I realize the impending doom. At the time, Pennsylvania’s polls hadn’t been announced and we would need more states to capture the electoral college votes.
I travel back to Brooklyn to pick up my backpack and take an Uber home. On the drive back, I think about each train ticket I bought to come into Brooklyn and how my mother joked that the price of transportation was our campaign donation. Should we have done more? I reach my apartment at 4 AM and call my mother, who stayed up patiently waiting for me to get back home. I cry and I cry.
The next morning the staff wheels out the victory ice cream and Hillary Clinton speaks to us on the phone. HR sends an email reminding everyone to clear out and turn in their badges. As I leave the headquarters for the last time, I realize that I’ve turned in my badge to a place that I’d spent more time in than my own apartment.
That night at the Javits Center, after Hillary Clinton lost the election, one of the news anchors said they’ll blame the media. That anchor was correct. I can’t stand to listen to these privileged anchors (who have become detached from the real people in this country because of their fame) talk about America. I was utterly sick of being told what to think by the news around me.
November 8, 2017: Sarah Lawrence College
“The comfort of being ‘naturally better than,’ of not having to struggle or demand civil treatment, is hard to give up. The confidence that you will not be watched in a department store, that you are the preferred customer in high-end restaurants—these social inflections, belonging to whiteness, are greedily relished.”
– Toni Morrison, “Mourning For Whiteness”
After the election, I realize how angry I am at the media and my constant need to find validation and information through online content. I log out of my Twitter and Snapchat accounts. I silence my Instagram notifications. I clean out my Facebook likes and make sure to unfollow almost everything. The content that I peruse so frequently no longer provides pleasure or solace. I can’t stand being so plugged in all the time.
I say that I’m waldening myself from social media. Like Thoreau, I want to remove myself from the public sphere to see how self sufficient I can be without the bustle of the media. The whole process has been a form of purification. A process of making enough space to be myself in a world where I feel like I don’t belong. I am left wondering where can I go to be truly autonomous and where can I escape.
In the Toni Morrison excerpt above, she mentions that all immigrants know that to become real Americans they must regard their native country as secondary. In many ways, I wish I could go back to my real home, the place where my family comes from, which, since growing up in America, is a place that I feel I have no ownership of. Conservatives believe that I do not have a claim to the US, but I don’t feel that I have a claim to my parent’s home, either.
It’s been a year, and I have no solution for the disillusionment I feel from the outcome of this election. I still feel like I’m neither here nor there–I am between two homes that both find it hard to accept a third culture kid.