It’s been two months since the polls flew in for our president-elect. Monday, the electoral college gathered to cast votes for their state, which finalizes the presidency. For many Asian Pacific Islander millennials who, like most of the world, did not foresee a Trump victory, the weeks following the election have been filled with fear and anxiety. Heading into 2017, API millennials say they are over the initial shock and more determined to speak out.
“I didn’t really think much [about politics] to be honest,” said Liem Nguyen, a 22-year-old Vietnamese American. “I thought Hillary [Clinton] was going to win for sure. … In the past I didn’t really care about this stuff. I didn’t really see myself represented.”
Liem said he questioned how his community was connected to anything political, and if the elections would impact their daily lives. As it turns out, the answer isn’t what he expected.
On election day, Liem said he aloofly checked the New York Times polling map expecting to see most states blue. He thought it’d be fun. Then four or five hours went by. He started getting worried, and when he realized Trump could win, Liem pulled out his calculator.
“It was stressful,” Liem said. “It seemed weird that [Trump] would get so many votes and the states were turning red. It’s not real. I felt anxious throughout the whole thing.”
When Trump ultimately won, Liem experienced an overflow of Facebook reaction—a notable pattern that all of the people interviewed for this article recounted. But contrary to many white liberal’s feeds, Liem’s was full of encouragement.
“A lot of people reacted in a positive way,” he said. “Everyone was on Facebook and everyone was watching, so it felt like I was a part of the process. I wasn’t alone, I was chatting with my friends from two different states, international students.”
Liem voted for Clinton. Trump, he said, seemed like a reality TV character.
“So I was anxious,” Liem said, “because it was becoming a reality, and I couldn’t grab all of that.”
Liem pondered about the way national media portrayed Trump’s inevitable loss, by which Liem openly admitted to being affected. If a Trump presidency wasn’t a possibility, he wasn’t going to worry about it. But in the aftermath, Liem said he is paying attention to Trump’s decisions and actions. He’s been closely following Trump’s cabinet picks. Where following politics felt forced before, Liem said it now feels very natural.
“I feel like we should stay calm,” Liem said, noting Van Jones’ dialogue on CNN. Jones espouses that the American public should heal themselves and come together.
“When we take action, it has to come from the heart, a place of calmness, of authenticity,” Liem said, urging people to not be reactive. “And I think that’s powerful.”
This election was a transitioning point for many young people, he said.
“The political elite need to somehow capture this,” Liem said, “take advantage of this new movement, people who are beginning to care, beginning to see the reality of it. Somehow involve them, which I think they are starting to do.”
Crystal Song, a Korean American, also said Trump’s impending win wasn’t on her radar. Following the election, Crystal said her Facebook feed was divided. Many of her Facebook friends are friends from high school, Crystal said, who are predominantly Republican, white, and upper-middle class.
“They’re not seeing [the election results] in a framework as with someone who’s a minority would see it,” Crystal said. “I’ve got one part of my Facebook friends saying it’s horrible, and then another part saying it’s not that bad at all and supporting Trump outright. It’s conflicting and I’m confused. I’m trying to stay objective. I don’t want to hate Trump just to hate Trump. I want to because there are legitimate reasons to be fearful of him.”
Crystal said her family members defend Trump by taking things out of context, like how Trump paid women more than Clinton’s campaign, to make it seem like he is a good president. While the statement alone is true, Trump still paid those women 35% less than his staffed men. And outside of his campaign, Trump’s Casino records show he staffs less women, according to a Mother Jones report.
“So there’s maybe good things you could say about him,” Crystal said, “but that doesn’t really make everything else okay.”
Unlike Liem, Crystal said that in order to function, she feels she has to stop thinking about the presidency, although she admits it might not be the best way to approach things.
“I mean there’s not really a lot you can do,” Crystal said. “There’s no chance the electoral college will swing completely in favor of Hillary Clinton. This is happening.”
And while she thinks Trump will get impeached due to his conflicts of interest around business and politics, Crystal said Vice President-elect Mike Pence is perhaps much more terrifying when it comes to human rights.
“The racism that has been rooted in this history is going to become more tangible because of [Trump’s] presidency,” Crystal said, noting reports of a rise in hate crime since the presidential campaign. “A couple weeks ago, I was shopping at an outlet with my mom, and I heard this white guy yelling at this Asian lady ‘go back to Asia.’”
Crystal said that while hearing racist comments isn’t anything new, it was very different in that moment because her mom, a first generation immigrant, was there.
“It just makes me fearful that I can’t protect the people that are at risk of being targeted,” she said.
Crystal supported Bernie Sanders’ run for president. She said she was frustrated with how the Democratic Party has not been listening to young voters. “The DNC needs to get its head out of its ass,” Crystal said.
She said the hardest part of Trump’s victory for her is her faith in the election process, how over two million of the popular votes didn’t count because of the electoral college.
“I feel like that’s a really clear, explicit implication of ‘your vote really doesn’t matter,’” Crystal said. “This election really destroyed the fundamental concepts of democracy and what democracy’s supposed to be.”
Crystal said she worries about how it will affect future voters. But she also said this election may show how much the political system needs to change, and something will take shape.
Cheuk-Ning Li, a 20-year-old Chinese American, also said she didn’t foresee Trump’s win.
“I started going on Facebook and I saw the results that were coming in,” Cheuk-Ning said. “I was just devastated. It caught me off guard.”
She said she kept asking herself, “What are we going to do now? He’s a huge liar and said all these awful things.”
Since the election, Cheuk-Ning has been trying to get more involved in community organizing, and building support networks. In addition, she hopes to strengthen the public’s analysis of what’s happening.
Cheuk-Ning said she was surprised by how many other people were grieving like she was.
“I think before Trump was elected, we tended to do this thing where we would find our own echo chambers and keep within those circles,” she said, adding that the idea of tossing out someone else’s opinion alone is very concerning. “The mentality of the disposability of people is a symptom of capitalism that we can just throw people away.”
Cheuk-Ning has been having hard discussions with more conservative family members, and urges others to do the same. She also said that the American public in general is very susceptible and vulnerable to media. However, she’s had more problems with the well-intentioned people just now realizing niceness isn’t enough, citing #AllLivesMatter and the “color-blind” concept for skin tone. People shouldn’t just be looking at the extremes of white supremacy, but also at the less-directly-racist folks, she said.
“The average person doesn’t like to thinking about politics,” Cheuk-Ning said, calling for a change in mindset. “They see it as a separate realm than seeing it as, ‘Oh this impacts my life.’”
Cheuk-Ning said many Asian American immigrants come from places where they don’t trust the government, and have a mentality of survival. “But it’s more than just about your own family,” she said, noting that while family is important, it shouldn’t be paramount. “It’s an either-me-or-them mentality. There’s no us.”
She said connections between people who don’t agree with each other are a necessity.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” Cheuk-Ning said. “The silver lining here is that more people are having their eyes open to the racism that’s so prevalent in this country. It’s less easy to ignore now than it was before.”