Sunday, August 13, 2017

Today Was The Day My Light Shined

It was the usual evening walk. Down towards Castro Street, Mountain View and back home with my dad. As we neared Castro we heard a lot of honking, and my father was quick to compare it to Bangladesh and I said it resembled New York, where I had just visited earlier in the summer and wished I could live in the NYU dorms. Still baffled, we came to the crossing and saw police cars waiting and driving around the area so we observed and saw a protest taking place. The American flags were waving high and banners were being carried.

“Dad we have to go! Please!” 

I pleaded to my father to let me go. My father, also eager to join, decided we can go with the demonstration. I kept an ear out, listening to see what exactly was being protested. I scanned the crowd and I smiled as I saw older generations some with children and some with grey hair walking in the march. I knew this was not just a battle that the young were fighting. The old generation gave me hope.

We were in the back of the crowd where a wonderful lady was leading the group in songs. I looked around and heard the echoed slogan of 2017: “Love Trumps Hate”. Even though I knew that not all white people are against immigrants, it felt more real seeing them welcome anyone into the march with open arms. The media has set such a fear inside us all that we let it get the best of us.

We gathered in front of the theatre center in Castro and I slowly seeped my way through to the front. The daylight had faded, illuminating all the wishful candles. The dark is funny like that. Even though our eyes lose their vision, our hearts open up as though we are all standing there with the heart of a young baby beating strong and healthy. We beat as one in our songs. Our hearts were pure and stood with open arms as though it had never felt pain and only ever known love. As though those sixty eight years had no scars just like the child holding a candle in its stroller. We were one.

“This little light of mine”


A choir formed out of the entire crowd. Every note was sung in harmony. A little laughter and some shared smiles drew us closer. The family in front of me moved out of the way and  I came to see the organizers. "Together We Will" written across a banner helped me understand how this had come to be. This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land. A song I remember my dad singing when I was younger. I did not know its true meaning until today.

Today could not have been filled with more fate. I had been talking about going to protests ever since the current president had been sworn in back in January. I have cried so many tears over the heartless bans and violent actions that have been committed in the past eight months. What happened next was never part of my plan, for all I knew was that the lady in the middle had organized this. After three people spoke I thought the demonstration was finished, so I decided to approach the lady to gather more information of future protests and how I could participate. I started to cross over and all of a sudden an older lady says go ahead and speak. The organizer turned around and said the stage is yours. Now in that moment I thought. I could walk away or I could take this opportunity. I think part of me deep down wanted to speak tonight. Every time I saw these protests on TV, I always thought what I would have said if I had that megaphone.

Tonight, however, my voice was all I had. Without hesitation I decided to speak. I did not even turn to look at my father as the first thing that came to my mind was how thankful I was that for some reason I was able to stumble upon a protest that I could participate in.

I checked to see if everyone could hear me as I started. I moved here four years ago from Europe. I may not have an American citizenship, but boy have I never been prouder to say that I live in this country. I spoke of how welcomed it made me feel as an immigrant and as a person of color to see a crowd supporting me. I went on to talk about my parents who could not get married due to their different religions. My mother being Hindu and my father a Muslim. Neither converted nor would ever ask the other too. Instead I grew up in a home where I was never labeled either, in fact I even went to church.

To see an actual crowd standing in front of you knowing that they support your rights and believe that you are equal to others and deserve to be treated as such is unlike any other feeling.

I was not shaking. I was buzzing.

All throughout my body came an energy that I had not felt before. I felt as though this is where I was meant to be. This is what I was meant to do. At the age of fifteen, nearly sixteen, I do not want to waste my life and time. I can now happily say that I did not sit back and watch. I played my part, however small that may have been. I have never felt more in my element than that very moment in front of that crowd. Tonight, hundreds of other demonstrations took place across the country in response to the tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia. Today, we saw truly how love can bring us together.

As people were listening, I saw the kindness in people's hearts as they lit up each other's candles. Although this may seem like common courtesy, I see it as a symbol for the good in our world. Nobody's light will get any dimmer by lighting up another’s light. The pure simplistic act of lighting up each other’s hope is what drove me to speak. I was shorter than most of the crowd and my father was out of sight, but that did not intimidate me for one second because all I knew was that I wanted to say thank you.

Politics have become an important part of my life as I someday hope to work in that field and do my part and help the people the best way that I can. Today I felt a little bit of that. After I was done a kind woman came up to me and handed me her candle and said she wanted me to keep this. I walked with it all the way home still glowing and lighting my path. I looked up at the stars and wondered how I, an immigrant young girl who happened to stumble onto the stage, spoke without feeling fear to a big crowd. Another lady told me that I would go places and so many people came forth and expressed how amazed they were to see a young girl speak. I could barely believe it myself. This was after all my first protest. I heard a woman say that I would end up in congress and that I was like Obama. Two other woman came up to me and told me how they had gotten pessimistic about the political atmosphere but seeing me gave them hope that they are passing the world on to safe hands. The sixty eight year old lady told me that she was also fifteen when she first started out and that she was sure we would meet again. Little did they know that they were the ones inspiring me since they are fighting for a better future not for themselves, but for me.

Earlier today I was telling my dad that in history class we always talk about what we would have done if we lived back then. The truth is most of us would not do much, in fact many of us would have done nothing. I told my dad that I needed to participate in protests because I can not live with myself if in fifty years children will be learning about today and saying how they would have protested and knowing that I, who lived then, had done nothing. I may be just fifteen, but that is no excuse for me not to help. Now my heart is at ease knowing that in fifty years I can tell my future family and friends of how I started my career in standing up in the face of fear, hate and injustice.

Today was the day my light shined and it is the first of many more.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Difference Of a Smile in NYC

New York. I had declared this city my future home.

I no longer referred to my future saying "if" or "hopefully", instead  I say “when”. The last day before leaving, I went with my mother on self guided tour of Columbia University, a prestigious Ivy league university, and NYU, the one university I could not stop talking about since last February.

Before all of this, we toured Brooklyn via a food tour guide and once again I had fallen in love with this entire area. Chinatown as well as an Eastern European part of Brooklyn really shows the diversity of the city and I'm happy to say I was not shocked. This is what attracts me to this part of America. There is that struggle to make it and a sense of toughness, it doesn't matter if you grew up here or if you immigrated like I did. Change is fundamental to who I am as a person and New York fits that perfectly because there is always something new to try. Take the subway, Uber or even a cab and you can be anywhere. New York is the home to so many culture and is not just for a certain group of people, but open to everyone.
There is a stereotype that New Yorkers are rude. Behind every stereotype there is a bit of truth somehow no matter how twisted. Nevertheless, if you go through New York with a smile and never let anyone kill your positive energy, it rubs off on others and you will see that a smile can lighten up someone else's day. 
I was feeling pretty great on the ride from our hotel as I thought about me living in New York.

Our Uber pulls up to Columbia university

I had not expected much walking up; however, I completely stopped when I saw the entrance. my mom kept walking until she realized I was still outside looking at the main gate and the two on the side. the last time I felt like this was when I was nine and saw Princeton for the first time. I walked through the side gate, as though I was nine years old again listening to one of the Princeton professors telling me to go through the side gate because there is a superstition that you don't graduate if you go through the main door.
I just remember my heart beating so fast. I saw all these other students dressed nicely and I stood there in my black shorts, green tank top and backpack.
There are three situations in which I walk faster than usual. 1. I'm trying to get away from a uncomfortable/scary situation 2. I'm feeling very confident 3. I'm very excited and I want to run/jump/scream but I can't. That is what I felt walking into Columbia. This summer it finally hit me that in two year, when I'm 17,  I'm going to start at a university. I'm never the one to shy away from smiling so I walked all around with a steady smile on my face. I froze up once more when I saw the size of the library. The top was lined with the foundational philosophers. The only down part was that the library was not open.

At this point I was still in awe of the fact that I was in a university campus. I saw all these other families walking around. The daughters especially were wearing nice dresses, jewelry and being completely dressed up from head to toe. I stood there with my black backpack, black shorts and a green tank top and sandals that slightly resembled greek sandals. The only jewelry on me was a delicate little necklace that my best friend and I had bought for each other.
Nevertheless, I did not care because I knew that all of that did not matter right now.

Next stop was NYU

The school I had been talking about since the beginning of high school. The uber made U-turn and picked us up. The driver was very delightful to talk with and made the twenty minute drive fly by. He was a mix of many different cultures and ethnicities; he said he was Puerto Rican from Brooklyn. He was as big as his whole hearted laugh. I thought of all the times where movies and people say New Yorkers are rude. Yes, there are always rude people in one of the most metropolitan cities in the world, yet at the same time a smile goes a long way. What else do you expect from the city that has been in the spotlight for decades. People are bound to become agitated. Asking kindly and not being thrown of by someone else's bad attitude is the key in life. A few days before I had gone to a Mexican restaurant near Time Square, keep in mind that west coast will always have better Mexican food, the waiters were formal at first until I spoke a bit in Spanish. It was not much but I tried and the attitude of the workers changed dramatically. Smiles were genuine and they were much more kinder. A smile and some respect really does make a monumental difference in the way you experience life.

We arrive at NYU's main office

I see Washington Square Park out of the corner of my eye. I do not feel the same excitement, but rather a sense of calmness. Even in this deathly heat of more than 30 degrees Celsius the park looked wonderful with the fountain in the middle and the kids playing and blowing bubbles. The university has always had a preference for me. The energy at the campus is just so nice. It seems down to earth and very relaxed. I love that it is in the city and that you are immediately thrown into the world. I love not being surrounded by the same group of people. Living in the city allows you to constantly run into new people and explore the area. There is always something new to be seen and tried. After I returned I met a sophomore at NYU that lived down the street from me. We talked and bonded over the struggle of not really knowing much about college as well as my painting as she had come over while I was painting in my garage. Sororities and fraternities are apparently not too big of a deal and that makes NYU more appealing to me. I do not mind trying it, but the fact that the school is so diverse is a major plus. Diversity has always made me feel more at home. Diversity is not just race and gender but also in personality. Walking through the buildings of NYU, I immediately became accustomed to the street names and felt at home. I saw students studying in Starbucks and in the park and all I could imagine was how amazing it would be to go to this school and that is when my heart started racing and my smile grew wider and wider. Someday I thought. I thought no matter how crazy it is to believe you can go to a specific school, being that crazy that you do not doubt yourself will get me closer than if I ever doubt myself. I just have to keep doing my best and believe that I shine through my work.

It is fascinating that I have been in school for 10 years in a few days. I still remember the first day. The day I met my best friend. Although we are an ocean plus a continental America apart, we have survived and never been closer. Believing in something so blindly, is the only way to make sure something that crazy, as keeping your childhood best friend and growing closer to them over the past four years apart, is possible. If I can adapt and excel at English a language I did not understand that well four years ago. If I learned rock climbing within a year even if my surgery prevents me from getting better. If I skipped sixth grade and taught myself geometry in one summer. If I can take finals right after surgery and being on narcotics. If I can do that and everything else I have done and been through. I know that I can reach my dreams. 

Whether or not I am accepted at my dream school, I know that someday I will end up in New York.