“Is Trump going to take away ESL?”
“No, he can’t do that because New York State is in charge of your education.” I explained.
“Good, because I have to learn English.”
As I walked her to class, I couldn’t help but think: Maybe now more than ever, kid. Maybe now it’ll be even more important to find a way to fit in.
This is legit making me nervous.
It was about 11:00 pm when I got the text message from my brother. I started the night watching the election results with the expectation I’d be going to sleep by now, feeling good about a Clinton win. Instead, it was 11:00, and it didn’t look good.
I was really hoping not to need this. I texted back, with a photo of a glass of red wine attached. I wasn’t ready to get too panicked yet. There were a lot of states to go and, even though Trump had just taken Florida, I still felt confident that he would fall.
As I drank that first glass of wine, I thought about all of the highlights of the Trump campaign: the Wall, the women who accused him of sexual assault, the ban on Muslims, the support of stop-and-frisk, that time he told blacks in the inner city that their lives “couldn’t get any worse,” that time he mocked a reporter with a disability.
Clinton made a brief comeback when she won the west coast, which put her in the lead at the time. I sighed with relief.
The she lost North Carolina, Wyoming, Iowa, Ohio. She fell behind in Michigan, Wisconsin. The gap in Pennsylvania started to close.
Taking the final sips of that red wine, I started to see my students in each one of Trump’s highlights: the reporter was Meghan, a sweet girl with a speech disability; the Muslim was Iisha, a bouncy 11th grader; Jessica Leeds was Aaliyah, a young student still trying to find her place.
“I just feel exhausted. And it’s only Wednesday.”
“Exhausted? What from?” I asked, half-joking.
Ms. Garcia shot me a look and a half chuckle. “You know damn well.”
The only way I can describe walking around the hallways of my school on Wednesday is depressed. Some adults discussed the results, some didn’t. A few decided not to come in. Most of us were still trying to make sense of it.
At 9:00, I sat with my principal as she called the Bronx Field Support Center looking for ways to support ENL students whose emotional, social, and domestic lives had been tossed into turmoil. They sent her to the superintendent’s office. When she called there, no one picked up.
I walked into my 4th period class. That morning, my co-teachers and I decided that we couldn’t discuss MacBeth today (as applicable as it may be to the current political situation). Today, we had to take some time to discuss the election with students. Although it can sometimes feel like they’re oblivious to the world outside of themselves, they definitely can tell when someone hates them. And they knew Trump hated them. And someone who hated them had just been elected to the highest office in the United States.
We started class the same way we always do, with a Quote of the Day:
“We thought we lived in Enlightened times… We thought the darkness would be over, that we would save the planet and come together in fairness and justice. And we were wrong. The fight isn’t over.”
After some silent reflection time, students started to share out. At first, they were hesitant. Some were confused.
“What do we think the fight is against?” I asked.
Then the connections to Trump started.
“Trump won because he’s racist and America is racist.”
“I feel mad disrespected because Trump treats women like garbage.”
How does that make you feel?
I poured a second glass of red wine. The gap in Michigan grew. Wisconsin stayed decidedly red. Trump took the lead in Pennsylvania.
I reached out to the people I cared about, trying to make sense of it all. I had, naively it seems now, never seriously considered a Trump victory. As a result, I didn’t run through this scenario in my head. I didn’t know what to think or feel. Somehow I skipped the panic phase and jumped right from somewhat-worried to hopeless.
I texted my co-teacher: I think we need to change the plan for tomorrow. I don’t think I can teach about MacBeth. I think we need to talk about Trump.
I texted a former colleague: I may not sleep tonight. I have 3 undocumented students. What do I say to them?
I had no idea. I knew they needed space to ask questions and to express feelings. I knew they needed someone to reassure them. I knew they needed to talk about what happens next. The problem was that I didn’t know how to do that.
I texted my Uncle: I’m so confused. Is our education system that bad? Did people just not vote? I don’t believe this.
His response: I just don’t know. We thought we lived in Enlightened times… We thought the darkness would be over, that we would save the planet and come together in fairness and justice. And we were wrong. The fight isn’t over.
“In four years, how many of you will be able to vote?” Almost every hand went up.
“When you can vote, will you?”
Some students said they would definitely vote. Some said they might not if they didn’t like either candidate.
“If you don’t vote, you can’t complain about who wins,” another student chimed in. All of the sudden a bunch of students started to talk at once. I gave them some time to talk about it with their neighbor, so everyone would be heard by at least one other person.
I moved over to a student without a partner, Nancy Lopez.
“Do you think you’ll vote in four years?”
“I don’t know.”
“I’m not sure what’s going to happen. My family might move back to Mexico next year, and if they do I’ll go with them.”
“What can we do between now and the next election to keep fighting against racism and sexism and inequality?”
A few hands shot up.
“Riot and protest.”
“Facebook. By posting articles and stuff so your friends and family can read it. That way they know what’s going on.”
“Talk to people. Convince them about what’s right.”
I woke up Wednesday morning with one resounding question on my mind: Is the world I woke up to today fundamentally different than the one I woke up to yesterday?
It felt like it. I felt sad and angry. I felt hopeless and unsure in what the future held for my students. I didn’t know what to say to them, and I wasn’t sure I could protect them.
But also, all of the hate and the anger and the pain that got Trump elected has been there. Racism isn’t new. Sexism isn’t new. Trump didn’t create them, he just mobilized them.
But it does feel like all the cards are on the table now. I couldn’t ignore it and pretend Trump was going to go away. I can no longer just choose not to consider how I’m going to feel on January 20, 2017 when he takes office. I don’t have that luxury anymore. Whether or not the world has actually changed, it sure feels like the one I woke up to is decidedly worse than the one I thought I was living in.
For our students, for their families, and for the millions of other people in this country whose futures and lives are in the balance right now, we cannot turn a blind eye. We cannot choose not to look and not to speak up. We must be informed; we must fight for them. Whether we use our bodies in protest, our voices in persuasion, or our writing in communication, we must not be idle or silent.