I have spent many nights like these.
Swaddled in my compulsory need to read and several layers of blankets, I scroll to the next article and ready to envelop myself in the comforting lilt of words. There is an innate and almost childlike joy in these stolen late-night escapades. I am both invisible and all-mighty as a I flip from one story to the next, traversing across states and meeting fantastical people and pioneering breakthroughs.
But as I come across an article about the upcoming midterm elections and the plight of low voter turnout, I am reminded that these stories are real, these statistics, facts. I load the next article, then another. Though what I read is (hopefully) news and (hopefully) true, I find myself growing more incredulous at the state of our nation with each headline I scan.
Words fail me.
Thirty years before…
She has spent many nights like these.
Her dark hair pouring over her shoulder, the teenage girl bites her lip as she carefully reads her biology textbook. A distant boom shakes the table as dust from above peppers her scalp, but all she concerns herself with is understanding the human species. A candle’s flame illuminates the discarded scarf by her side. Shadows dance on her face; she frowns.
Save for her light, the room is completely dark.
Thirty years later…
We have spent many nights like these.
I’m examining my comparative government notes for the umpteenth time, feeling utterly exhausted. I reread a sentence: “Political efficacy is essential in a democracy. People need to believe their voices make a difference.”
As I tie my hair up, my mother walks past my room and observes, “It’s gotten longer.”
I look at my mane of curls. “Do you want me to cut it?” My mother’s reaction is swift as it intense: “Absolutely not! Let it be seen by the whole world!” Her footsteps echo loudly on the hard floors.
Immersed in the world of international politics, I shake my head and smile at my mother’s enthusiastic personality. But as I navigate the page’s undulating cursive handwriting, I suddenly realize that when she was my age, my mother’s hair was covered up. I look down at a paragraph about Iran’s political past and then up at the breathing legacy of that history.
I have spent many evenings excavating the knowledge hidden in my schoolwork. I have labored over the pronunciation of obscure names and untangling the succession of foreign leaders. I sneak in late-night reading binges on online news sites and casually swipe through photos of lives I cannot fathom. I have experienced rebellions and oppression and high-stakes politics, but only as a half-blind tourist.
My invisibility, however, has also caused me to neglect appreciating the unique condition of our nation. We live in an incredibly flawed society, yes, but there is so much we take for granted. There’s so much that I have taken for granted.
I will never know what it’s like to have been my mother. I will never know what it’s like to see the fall of a king or the rise of an oppressive theocracy. I will never understand how my mother could study so calmly when she was quite literally studying for her life — to get out of a nation she loved but knew she could no longer live in. Or to suffer frequent power outages because bombs were flying overhead or to be spontaneously raided by the police.
But I have spent too much of my life reflecting on the past or interpreting about the present through a screen, relishing my anonymity. I have what my ancestors did not: a way to actively and safely take control of my future by raising my voice.
I wrote this, like I write most of my pieces, at midnight, on the cusp of a new tomorrow. I love reading and writing, but sometimes that is not enough. Words must be turned into action.
I am now a year older than my mother was when she flew here alone to make a new life for herself in the United States.
I am 18. I am an official adult, and registered to vote.
And I will do so, proudly and earnestly, because I am the daughter of a doctor and an immigrant and an American citizen, and because I have spent many nights like these, and cannot wait to see the dawn.