Dialogue with Diana

2017-2018 Rising Voices Fellow Sofia Gardenswartz (left) with Diana, a Chinese exchange student Sofia's family hosted in 2016. The photo was taken at a Halloween party.

October 2016 was a difficult month. It was the month that Donald Trump started to become a truly scary candidate to me. It was also the month in which my family lost one of our beloved dogs to cancer. Amidst all this, my family was hosting a Chinese exchange student, Diana, in our home for a couple weeks. She was incredibly supportive and understanding as my family grappled with these tumultuous events.

As a Mongolian Muslim, Diana has a unique experience living in Shanghai. She’s an ethnic and religious minority, so she often faces discrimination. Diana stayed with my family over the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and we both learned a lot about each other’s cultures and religions during our weeks together. We got very close, and have continued to stay in touch.

In addition to her unique cultural viewpoint, one of the most impactful parts of Diana’s visit was her perspective on the U.S. election. In October, just one month before that fateful election day, the political drama was in full swing. Each day brought with it a new scandal or revelation that seemed to threaten the very core of our democracy. It was easy to be overwhelmed by the crazed news cycle and sensationalism of the American political arena, and I gratefully accepted Diana’s distinct view on the whole affair as a non-American citizen. But what she said surprised me.

“You’re so lucky,” Diana told me. “And you don’t even realize it.” Lucky? I scoffed. How was it lucky that, in less than a month, we could have a President who publicly promotes rape culture?

But Diana helped me put things into perspective. At least in the U.S., she insisted, we have the opportunity–the constitutional right–to speak out; we can march, we can protest, we can make our dissent heard. In China, Diana and her fellow citizens don’t have this freedom. Instead, they’re forced into a quiet complacency with no avenues to criticize their government. Diana showed me that, even though I don’t approve of the current administration (to the say the least), I have the agency to express my opinion freely, and to make change.

I was humbled by Diana’s thoughts. Diana showed me, in the kindest, most respectful way possible, how disengaged I’d been from the global discrepancies in freedoms. The American Presidency, arguably the most powerful office in the world, has far-reaching effects across the globe. Yet many of those global citizens have no way of voicing their opinions in regards to their own national politics, let alone that of the United States. And amidst the current administration’s trend of ridiculing and undermining the American free press, I’m concerned too about the shrinking extent to which we’re even able to exercise our first amendment right.

With Diana’s lesson in mind, I’ve worked to be more grateful for my own freedom of speech; from marching alongside 5 million others worldwide on inauguration day, to calling my local representatives, I will no longer take this freedom for granted. We in the U.S. are lucky to be able to speak out, and should recognize that not everyone has this luxury. We need to make our voices heard now more than ever, for ourselves, and for those who can’t.

Diana showed me that, as difficult as a situation may be, we always have the power to voice our concerns. At the very least, we can commiserate with others who share our objections. At most, we can just maybe make a real change.

*If you want to make your own voice heard, check out these sites to take action now:


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This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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How to cite this page

Gardenswartz, Sofia. "Dialogue with Diana." 22 December 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 29, 2022) <https://jwa.org/blog/risingvoices/dialogue-with-diana>.

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