The call for women to get involved in politics has grown increasingly loud since the start of Donald Trump’s presidency. And one young woman who has heeded that call has shared a powerful, painfully honest Facebook post about what it’s been like to work in Washington D.C. these days.
“I broke down at work yesterday, slumped against a hallway in Congress weeping. I could hear my sobs bouncing off the high ceiling. Is this business as usual? I’m overwhelmed; it’s hard to breathe here. Working for Congress is like always being in crisis mode. I’m forgetting how to eat, sleep, or relax,” began the account by Louie Tan Vital, 22, a staff assistant who has been working in U.S. Congress for a Washington state Democrat for just one month now.
Vital went on to share both the pains and joys of being a congressional worker, posting it this week to both to her own Facebook page and to the private Pantsuit Nation group. There, since Wednesday, it has received 41,000 reactions and more than 7,300 comments, many of them thanking the young woman and cheering on her empathy and tenacity, telling her, “keep fighting,” “thank you for not giving up,” and “you give me hope for our future.”
Vital, the daughter of immigrants from the Philippines, shared that she is the only Filipino she knows in Congress. She described the difficulties of her job: “Constituents from around the country call everyday to share their hopes, fears, and anger. It’s beautiful and painful and I can’t help but absorb every word. Yesterday I sorted through a barrage of racist hate mail; people have said unspeakable things to me thinking I’m not a person of color. These words follow me into my dreams… The hardest part is not having time to mourn or process what’s happening in the world I’m exhausted and shaken. I’m expected to have answers to questions I’m too scared to ask myself…”
She added, “I asked my colleagues here how to handle these daily beatings. They told me I will become numb to it all. That frightened me even more. Even if I could turn off my emotions, I wouldn’t. My deep love and desire for community, and hatred for injustice is what brought me here in the first place.”
Speaking with Yahoo Beauty, Vital, who grew up in Hawaii before moving to Washington, explains that while she was student body president in high school, it wasn’t until college that she was fully aware of becoming “politicized.” That’s because, as she explains it, “As a young woman of color, my identity is inherently political… I realized I can’t go anywhere else but into politics.”
Having immigrant parents and being part of the Asian Pacific Islander community has also inspired her career choice. She studied abroad in the Philippines, she explains, noting, “It was powerful to see what my life could’ve been like there, where there is a history of dictatorship, marshal law, and corruption… I can see and understand why the Filipino people [here] are scared of government.” Plus, she says, many Filipino immigrants “see America as the promised land… and think America is perfect and so they don’t need to get involved.” It’s part of why Vital hopes to set an example.
Being a woman in politics, and particularly a small, young-looking woman, brings further challenges. When she was working for Congress in the state of Washington, before arriving in D.C., she recalls, “They would always think I was the intern. No, I was a legislative assistant!” Vital frequently wonders if she should change her image in an attempt to be taken more seriously. “Should I wear heels? More makeup? It’s absolutely exhausting,” she says. “We are held to a double standard.”
Then there is the daily reality of being in “crisis mode,” as she explained it in her post. “When we are in session, our phones are ringing off the hook, plus I’m answering emails and regular mail and faxes, and [greeting] lobbyists and constituents,” she elaborates. “I feel guilty trying to take a break, because there’s always someone who wants to be heard. And I value civic engagement so much.”
Sometimes people call with upsetting personal stories of poverty, healthcare, or disability woes, and “everyone feels scared that they’re rights are being taken away and they’re not being heard.” Calls can get “abusive,” she says. “They’ll be screaming at me, they can tell I’m a young woman so they can be kind of degrading, either angry about a vote [the Congressman cast], or just the country. I get a lot of people swearing at me,” she says, some in “regional insults” which can sometimes, at least, make her giggle.
Many Facebook readers have made suggestions to Vital about how she can practice self-care — something she’s still trying to figure out — when the stress gets overwhelming. “I’ve been reading through some of the gracious answers on the Pantsuit Nation post, like take a walk, do yoga, get Reiki — which is something I want to look into,” she says.
But Vital says it’s an overwhelming sense of responsibility and privilege that keeps her fighting and determined. “My family did not come from a province in the Philippines for me to give up. They came here just so I can be here in this hallway,” she says. She also wants to be a visible force for other Filipino youth who may see themselves in her, and realize that government doesn’t have to be for “old white men in suits” only. “Maybe me just being here can be an act of resistance and rebellion to what the structure currently is,” she says.
The earnest young woman’s parents met in Hawaii after her mother, now in real estate, became the first person in her village to come to the U.S. on a student visa, and her father, now an architect, was sponsored by his parents. “I think they’re proud and also worried,” Vital says of her parents. “I shared the post and he told me he was crying, and said, ‘That’s why I named you Louie.’ It can be man or woman’s name in Philippines. But here it’s definitely a man’s name.”
And she’s not going to give up, noting in her Facebook post, “If I don’t fight my way into politics as a young woman, who else is going to do it?? We need a political pipeline to get young folks of color into these inaccessible places of power. I am the only Filipino I know in the United States House of Representatives, but I’m looking forward to the day where I won’t be.”
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