Opinion | Op-eds

Taking up space in a Trump America

I will always remember last Wednesday, Nov. 9. Like many of us, I was devastated after the results of the presidential election were revealed. I couldn’t comprehend how a country that celebrated its first black president only eight years ago could take such a massive step backward by allowing a man who may completely reverse our nation’s progress to become our 45th president. This country’s principles are grounded in our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. How could Trump win when he so adamantly goes against these ideals?

These founding principles contain the answer to my confusion: He won precisely because of his promises to disenfranchise this pursuit of happiness, this pursuit of liberty, this pursuit to live, for people like me. For people who look like me—or, better yet, for people who don’t look like him.

I didn’t go to my two classes on Wednesday simply because I couldn’t. How could I face my classmates, most of whom are white, knowing that—while they may also fear for their futures—they could never understand the same racially charged fear that I was grappling with? I wasn’t upset at my class, but I also knew that their reasons for fear were completely different from mine. They could not fully understand my fear. Similarly, I do not know what it is to fear being discriminated against for my sexual orientation in the way that my older brother does. I don’t know what it means to fear being discriminated against for my religion in the way that my friends do. While I can sympathize with those affected by xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, and ableism, I will never fully comprehend how batshit scary it is for undocumented immigrants, LGBTQ individuals, Muslims, and people with disabilities to be living in the country with Trump as the president-elect.

I can, however, speak on my fears as a woman of color from a low-income family. I fear the Trump-led America I’m about to enter because I know that I cannot hide my skin color. I will enter the packed 1 train and wonder who around me wants my family and me to leave this country. I fear that I won’t be able to have access to the education that I have now. I fear that my 15-year-old brother will not be able to receive a suitable financial aid package. I fear that my grandmother—who lives in rural Pennsylvania—will not feel safe on her Walmart trips. I fear that saying I graduated from Columbia won’t be enough to get the job.

After the election results were revealed, I called my mom. I told her how scared I was for the future. Sure, I’m at Columbia and can hide in this Columbia bubble for the next four years, but what about when I graduate and need to face the (hopefully) post-Trump world? I can hide behind my education, but I can’t hide my skin. I can hide in New York City—the liberal city where I was born and raised—but what happens outside of here? What will happen throughout the rest of the country? What has already begun to happen? I needed my mother to tell me what to do. I felt lost and hopeless.

Trump’s success didn’t create the people I fear; he only further normalized them. Trump winning the election had the same effect on me as watching Scooby Doo used to. I always knew there was a person under the monster mask, but it was still a shock when it was revealed that the mask was just a mask. It was even more shocking when it turned out to be someone the Mystery Inc. gang trusted (like Scrappy Doo). I knew there were racists in this country—I know my American history and have protested at enough Black Lives Matter rallies to know this—but I didn’t want to think there were so many. I so desperately wanted to believe that the majority of America thought like me.

But the mask was ripped off last Tuesday night. It hurt seeing the faces under the mask. It hurt recognizing some of the faces under the mask.

My mother gave me important advice that got me out of bed and in class on Thursday. She told me that the most important thing I could do was to get my education. To demand my education, actually. She told me that I needed to occupy space. She knows I’m the type to protest, but she reminded me that protesting goes beyond attending marches and speaking out. Getting my degree is a form of protest against those that see me as bringing drugs and crime into the country. Coming to a university that only started accepting women 33 years ago was my form of protest. Working at Spec—even though I’m one of the few Latinx working here—is my form of protest.

Yes, it is tiring to be the only woman of color—sometimes the only person of color, or the only woman—in predominantly straight, able-bodied, white, male spaces, but it’s been instilled in me that if it won’t be me to speak out and protest, then who will it be? If I don’t make something of my privilege as a Columbia student and as a citizen of the United States and use that to open the door for others, what type of person am I? I didn’t get to where I am today by myself. I have what I have today—freedom of speech, the right to vote, the ability to get a higher education—because of people who’ve fought for me. By doing what I’m doing—living, earning my degree, working toward being a journalist—I’m making noise. I’m demanding space.

To my fellow classmates, I ask that you demand your space. I ask that you demand it for others who aren’t able to demand it themselves. It’s not going to be easy, but if you don’t, who will?

The author is a Columbia College first-year studying English and Latin American studies. She’s a proud Puerto Rican/Dominican American. She is currently an associate editorial page editor for Spectator, and spends her time protesting, working in the Spec office, or procrastinating on Snapchat.

To respond to this op-ed, or to submit an op-ed, contact opinion@columbiaspectator.com.

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