To my eight-year-old daughter,
I don’t know where to begin. Maybe I can just start with what’s in my heart and it’s pretty simple but truly profound. You have given me purpose, strength, and focus. Before you were born I struggled and hated almost everything about myself. Seriously, every bit of my persona was up for grabs. I talked too much. My body was lumpy and soft. I had ugly curly hair that was never cool. I was brought up straddling the values of a Punjabi family and white American culture but never really rooted in either. A college degree was elusive and I felt smart and stupid at the same time. I lived with this frustrated chaos for most of my adult life. Until you came along. So, you see, it’s simple, but not quite so. Maybe when you were growing inside, you squashed away some pain. I wonder if you saw what was in my heart? Whatever happened, since you’ve come along I have changed for the better. I am not filled with as much self-loathing. I feel proud of my accomplishments. I have always been sensitive, emotional, and even over-reactive. Now I see these traits as weapons, a defense against uncertainty and malaise. Because, I am sure you know this about me, I don’t sit still for long! I know you’ve seen me in a state of sadness for a few days, but I always rise up because I refuse to give up. I hope I passed this along to you too.
I tell you this because I want you to know how much I care about the future you will share with all the children in this world. And although I don’t feel as much internal chaos as before what I see happening to the world right now is a new chaos I’ve never felt. I can tell you that us grown-ups are very worried and as each day passes in early 2017, our worst fears are unfolding before us. And we feel so many things at once, hopelessness, anger, energy, resiliency, and unease. Your father suggested that I stay off social media and this is good advice because right now it’s hard to soak in so much bad news pouring in every hour. At the same time, it’s how I connect and mobilize but I admit I’m struggling to balance. Your poppa likes to approach the world with calmness and introspection, his way is also valuable, I hope you learn from him as well. But I find it difficult to respond with such a measured approach because what we’re facing feels urgent. So I turn to writing, as I am now, as a way to share my experiences. I feel compelled to do this because I want you to have a trusted source to turn to when revisionist historians downplay and gloss over what the general masses were feeling during the twilight years of some future I don’t yet see. And you can tell from my writing, I pound out words with urgency and speed. I just try my best, something I say to you often. But my goal is to write a simple sketch of 2017. I think this is an important year and I can already see there will be much pain and loss for many.
So this brings me to week one. Just seven days ago, on January 21 I was in Washington DC marching with two of my dearest friends, women you’ve known your whole life. We marched with nearly 500,000+ people, mostly women, mostly wearing pink pussyhats. Plus, every state in this country had a sister march too. Your grandfather marched in Los Angeles with a turnout of 750,000. He texted me a selfie and I started to cry when he told me I inspired him to wear a pink turban and march. It was an emotional day in DC, there were so many signs, messages, and concerns. It was a day I will remember forever, a day our country showed it’s big loving heart and I felt fortified and supported. It was the most inspiring thing I’ve ever done in my life, your Nanaji said the same thing. It will be our touchstone, I will return to the photos and videos for energy as we descend into instability. And trust me, the crowds were huge, so huge they had to open up all the streets for us march! We showed up and I’m glad you remember that I called you as I marched down Pennsylvania Ave. At the same time, I also felt so sad. Everything we are marching for is under attack. Women’s health and reproductive rights, climate change, black lives, justice, immigrant rights, protection for migrants and refugees, Native American sovereignty, and our planet are all going to be hit hard. But I want you to know this story and pass it your friends. You can tell them your mother and her friends were there and more people marched than attended Donald Trump’s inauguration. This is a fact. I wasn’t paid to attend and neither was anybody else. Full stop.
I feel strange having to make this statement but remember facts and truth are real. I never want you to stop believing! Yes, people are spreading hateful, awful lies right now. I have no idea what you will read when you’re an adult. I imagine it will be different than reality. This saddens me because I had such a different childhood and I mourn the idea that your country is in a dark place as you become a teenager. I know your memories of this time in your life will be more negative than mine. Back in the day, we did believe in our country, your grandparents and great-grandparents immigrated here with lots of hope and patriotism. I will do my best to keep joy and happy memories in your life.
I hope you read the book 1984 by George Orwell. I turned 12 in 1984 and so it was back in popular dialogue. Your grandfather had a tattered copy on his shelf, along with Animal Farm and I must’ve read it when I was 13 or 14. It was a bit over my head, that’s for sure, but since then I’ve read it many times. I tell you to study it because we live in an Orwellian time right now. There are powerful people using phrases like “alternative facts.” This is not a real concept. Very smart people are manipulating the truth and confusing all of us. It takes a lot more critical thinking energy to sift through information and I make all sort of errors too. But the truth is still out there, it’s not fully eradicated and never will be. But right now, lies are taking center stage. There is debate over the election results, but it is true that Hillary won the popular vote by 2.9 million. It is also true that Donald Trump won the electoral college and is the reason he is in the White house. My hope is that when you vote it will be counted directly. Right now, many Americans feel as though we’re not represented by our government, this is a very unstable feeling. This has happened twice in my lifetime (research the election of George Bush) and I feel strongly this must not happen again. I will fight for this change, we can do it!
Also, President Trump ran a campaign of lies and has deluded himself and perhaps many Americans that his plans will make our country great, again. You said it best, with the sign you made on inauguration day “Donald Trump, America is already great, you will make it worse again.” I want you to remember what you knew when you were just eight years old, in third grade, making art and writing your feelings out on January 20th. You believed that America is great. I am very proud of you for understanding that this country has a lot to offer. Look at your grandfather and look to people in your community that care, have thrived and love this country with all of its diversity of people, ideas, and yes challenges. We have legacy problems to correct, I will not deny this, but what Trump wants to do will not solve the issues. And somehow, without knowing every detail, you understood something deeply true. Throughout this whole year, your astute observations have filled me with relentless optimism, or Chardi Kala as Sikhs like your nanaji say! What a beautiful word, this is your culture and your roots. Sikhs and Icelanders are strong, resilient people, always tap into your blended heritage when you’re losing direction. And always keep good people in your life, you will need them. Your friends are all kind, caring, intelligent and creative human beings, I’m so proud of you all.
But remember, President Trump is in power for what will be a short blip in your full life. You and the children around your age will have to make this country better and I’m sorry there will be a lot more work ahead. But I know you will do the right thing! I marched with so many young people in DC and saw how determined your generation is to protect people’s rights and our planet. The kids get it! You know we must have justice for all people. You know that we must protect our water. You know that we must have health insurance and access to education. You know this and I never want you to forget.
There will be people that will try to convince you that their religious views supersede your rights to make choices for your body. Reject this limited view and fight to protect your choice. There will be people who will tell you it’s okay to pump oil and we must be energy independent. Reject this destructive plan and fight for sustainable solutions. There will be people that tell you immigrants cause all the problems in this country. Reject this and remember your roots, your father, your grandparents, and every single American came as immigrants to this country and they made it great! There will be people that will say Muslims are terrorists. Reject this and all forms of religious and racial discrimination, always. There will be people that say the rich shouldn’t bear some burden to help others with less. Reject this and fight for economic equality and remember an injustice to one is an injustice to all. There will be people that tell you liberals lie, climate science is a hoax, the left is intolerant, and the news is fake. Reject misinformation and always research, use your well-honed critical thinking skills, and don’t get off message. The truth is real, don’t ever give in and think there is nothing left to believe. Always find some source of truth in institutions that are here to protect you, they do exist. Right now in 2017, many people I know, on both sides have lost faith in everything and this is very disturbing. It’s destructive and we haven’t seen how just yet. Because a lot of people who voted for Trump did so out of frustration and the belief that we need to shake things up because everybody lies anyhow. And then there were 45% of the population that didn’t even vote at all, most likely many of them also believe that their vote doesn’t count, that nothing matters, or that everything is a lie. So these are the underlying factors that brought about a Trump administration. In 2008, we voted for Barak Hussein Obama, I took you in your little stroller to the voting booth, never forget. We as a country, voted for hope, for change, for pragmatism. So I know this energy still exists, I felt it when I marched with millions of people all over the world. There is love and it will trump hate but right now we’re gearing up for the biggest battle of ideas and I do so bravely and without reservation. I will not be one of the adults that made this world a mess for you to clean up.