Dedicate Your No-Trump Vote: Padma Viswanathan

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DedicateYourNoTrumpVote.com is home to a growing collection of voters who are thinking beyond the individual and dedicating their votes as acts of hope for the future. This brand new website includes a wide range of voices, from Pulitzer Prize-winning and bestselling novelists to a retired lieutenant colonel with the US Army Special Forces, teachers, social workers, and people from various walks of life. Feel free to #DedicateYourNoTrumpVote on Twitter, Facebook, or by submitting to the site.

–Julianna Baggott

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When we had our first child, in the US, where we now live, my mother came from Canada to help with the birth, calming the attendant chaos by cooking and cleaning and rocking the baby. On the eve of her departure, she asked if we would like her to come back—she was ready to retire anyway, and a grandchild seemed like the excuse she needed. We readily agreed. My father retired along with her, giving them the freedom to spend long stretches of time with us. Technically, at that point, they were still residents of Canada, where they paid taxes and had healthcare, but in due time we sponsored them for their green cards so that they could avoid interrogations like the one where the Border Patrol Agent accused them of taking babysitting jobs away from Americans by staying with us (legally) and helping look after our kids.

Here’s what he didn’t know: my mother has never been content simply to look after her own family. I suspect the narrow focus is too tribal for her or that she is too intellectually restless to confine herself to us. So when she started helping with our son, she did a correspondence course on the Montessori method—“just to learn more about child development,” she said. She volunteered at a Montessori preschool for a year, and then started hosting a playgroup at our house, for our children and half a dozen more. She kept saying she was doing it for our kids, but it was clear that she saw the benefits to our children as inseparable from the loving efforts she made on behalf of all these other children. When our kids reached school age but we found ourselves reluctant to put them in school, she conducted, with another mother, a homeschooling co-op for a year. When our children transitioned into public schools, she started volunteering there.

At this point, her focus sharpened: she thought she perceived a need for math enrichment, thinking that while literacy opportunities are available both within the school system and outside it, math-lovers in lower grades rarely get challenged as they wish. She offered to run math enrichment groups for small groups of children in each of our children’s grades. Again, she educated herself: researching assiduously until she was conversant in philosophies on math education around the globe; forming, testing and continually refining her methods and content; adapting these for each group of children she taught. Word spread, demand rose, and now she runs advanced math groups, both during the school day and after, for Grades 3-6. Her curriculum includes multiple approaches to math, with an emphasis on fun, social skills and self-knowledge. Children are asked to teach each other, to collaborate, and to make presentations on solutions they have found.

She insists on doing all this on a voluntary basis. Parents are always thanking her and giving her gifts, and she has received awards from the school board, but it’s clear she doesn’t particularly want recognition or gratitude. (I’m a little scared even to let her know I’m writing this.) She says, again, that she is doing this for our kids, although all the kids she teaches become ‘her kids’ on some level. She obviously takes enormous pleasure in her work—she feels as though she has found her métier—and the children’s satisfaction in the work and pleasure in their classes are also deeply satisfying to her.

What exactly in this story makes for a No-Trump Vote?

Is it that she is an immigrant to the US and was an immigrant to Canada before that, a brown woman on both sides of the border, viewed with suspicion that sometimes gets explicit? (I should say that while I don’t have space for my father in this short story, more’s the pity: he deserves his own.)

Is it my mother’s humility, her belief that good works are their own reward, that seems such a firm, quiet rebuke to the puffed-up blowhardery, the taking of credit where no credit is due, the self-advertisement that is the Trump persona and the Trump brand?

And to what or whom do I dedicate my vote—to her (she would be embarrassed), to both my parents, to the children and families whose lifelong gratitude my mother will lightly dismiss with a hug, to all those—especially immigrants, especially volunteers—who give because they believe in the essential dignity of service?

Yes: I dedicate my No-Trump Vote to all of that.

 

Coda: I showed this piece to my mother. She said she was both honored and embarrassed and reminded me that, while she has a green card, of course she can’t vote, and so hopes her experience might motivate someone else. Now I know that my vote is dedicated to her.


Padma Viswanathan's most recent novel is The Ever After of Ashwin Rao. More at her website: WWW.PADMAVISWANATHAN.COM More from this author →