Though we’ve known for four years that the 2020 US election cycle would be even more fraught than the strange and painful fall of the 2016 elections, most of us still find ourselves a little disoriented these days. For some, the urgency to remove Trump from office has immobilized us. For others, it’s fortified us into action to get out the vote and to sway those who are undecided, apathetic, and reluctant.
In the final five weeks before the election of a lifetime, we asked writers to consider the undecided voter and contribute compelling arguments and ideas for making the world right. Some contributors sent us work that takes on issues with precision and gravity. Others sent us different work, perhaps an even more visceral snapshot of this alarming moment — a one-act play, an open letter, a story of exile. New writing will be published weekdays; we believe its wisdom and strength will help us all navigate the uncertainty ahead.
I have a cousin who I love. Let’s call her Tia.
Tia does not vote. She’s in her late thirties, her children are growing up and demand her time and attention, and she is an astute businesswoman. She makes great money the old way — the way of past newcomers to this country who are able and willing to take risks. They open up a business, provide a service, turn hundreds into thousands, let that grow, open up more businesses, provide more services, buy new clothes, more stylish clothes, nice shoes, nicer shoes.
Tia’s doing well for herself and her family.
Regardless of what happens at the polls, Tia knows she and her family must survive. Her parents survived during a war. Her children will survive here in America.
Tia believes that money speaks louder than a vote.
I am not like Tia.
I, too, am in my late thirties. My children, younger than hers because I started later, demand my time and attention, too. I’m not an astute businesswoman. I’m an artist, writer, teacher, public speaker, translator, voiceover talent — I do anything and everything to put food on the table, to find time and space over a legal pad or laptop, so I can tell a story, share a moment, find words to render possible what I know to be true about life and death, and love and loss.
Our lives are very different in America. Tia believes in the power of the dollar. So long as she has enough dollars, she believes that she and her family are safe in America and that she will live, grow old, and die here as an American.
She is not wrong in her beliefs.
I am not wrong in mine.
While I am afraid that my vote won’t matter, won’t be counted, and, at best, may only cancel out a Republican vote, I — we, who believe in a life where the pursuit of money isn’t everything, must vote because insecure livelihoods depend on the wills and whims of leaders. The Tias of America will survive, regardless of who is in power, for much longer than the rest of us will, but the reality is that when I die like Tia, I, too, will die an American.
It is the nature of this American death that matters to me. I want to die an American who lived believing that a life need not be in pursuit of money to have mattered, especially to those who have needed lines of poetry and prose. I want to die an American who voted for the kind of America that allows storytellers to live on through their stories about people who are like and unlike them. I want to die an American who voted for the kind of an America that will not hide the truth — no matter how ugly.
If you enjoyed this essay, please share it with an undecided voter in your life, and please consider contributing to The Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota.
Kao Kalia Yang is a Hmong American author. She writes for children and adults. Her newest titles are The Most Beautiful Thing and Somewhere in the Unknown World. Yang writes from Minnesota, a state President Trump says will become a refugee camp if Biden is elected.