By now, it's pretty clear that the election season showed how fractured the country really was. More than two months have passed since November 8, and in that time many people have had to come to terms with their emotions and try to reconcile what the next four years will look like under President Trump. In the middle of the messy aftermath, Smeeta Khetarpaul tried to find a way to make sense of things. What if the way for the country to heal was through making an effort to address the issues that matter to everyone, despite their personal ideologies? That question gave birth to 100 Portraits of Hope. The photography project launched today in conjunction with the presidential inauguration. And over the coming months, Khetarpaul will be sharing portraits of "everyday people" — of different political affiliations, races, religions — addressing President Trump during his first 100 days in office. She hopes the project will also show that more things unite us than divide us.
Khetarpaul immigrated from India in the early 2000s after her mother suggested she should "explore the world." She is now a professional and mother of two living in Westchester county. "I feel I grew up in India, but my life became what it is, I became who I am, once I came here," she told Refinery29. "My job, my husband, my kids were born here. I bought my first house here, I developed my hobby into something meaningful." That's why the election result impacted her so deeply — parts of her identity were under fire. And it didn't help that her 7-year-old son self-identifies as "an American kid with Indian parents." Not as half-Indian, half-American, but as an American of Indian descent. Khetarpaul was fearful that other people would see the color of her son's skin and never fully accept him. So, in her post-election grief, she decided it was time to put her energies into something productive. Her solution? Start a conversation with people, even if their views differed from her own, about their hopes for the next four years. To accomplish that, she would have to leave her preconceptions behind.
"I don't want to look at you and automatically say, 'You're a racist because you voted for Donald Trump,'" she said. "I want to show people that the hopes and dreams of the average American are pretty much the same things that we all want...How we want this, or when we want this — those things might be different. But at the end of the day, we can't leave our core values behind." The portraits are not only a way to find common ground among people with varying perspectives and opinions, but also a way to hold President Trump accountable. "I would rather [see] that he evolves, and he expands his mind, and becomes the president for all the people," she said. "We can't spend four years fighting. We need to spend these four years moving this country towards a better place, together."
Focusing on the issues while talking with her subjects has been eye-opening for Khetarpaul. She thinks the project has the potential to help people to step out of their respective bubbles, and stop relying on their confirmation bias. "I hope this project changes the conversation and we start to have more positive, issue-based conversations," she said. She also hopes that the new president pays attention to the concerns of every person in the country — including those she has photographed. "I hope he listens," she said. "I hope it catches his attention." You can find "100 Portraits of Hope" on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and using the hashtag #BeOurPresident.