Coming of age in the Trump era

After the election, Americans left us thousands of voicemails about how they were feeling. Many were from teens. Ahead of the inauguration, we followed up with four of them to learn more about their hopes and fears.

Story by Masuma Ahuja, CNN
Animations by Luke Rotzler, CNN

She thought about going back in the closet

'I can't let fear rule my life'

Maddie Harris came out as gay when she was 14.

She and her friends were sitting around one day when they decided to tell each other about their sexuality.

"It was a 9th-grade thing," she says.

The conversation involved little surprise or revelation, she says, just a series of declarations.

"I am very gay," explains Maddie, who is now 15 and sports pink hair and braces.

After the election, though, classmates in her suburban Atlanta neighborhood began calling her names, and she considered going back into the closet.

"I've been called a faggot, I've been called a dyke, I've been called basically everything you can be called for being gay," she says.

Many of her classmates come from conservative families that supported President-elect Donald Trump, and she says she feels like his victory has emboldened some of her peers.

"It's sad to see racism win, it's sad to see homophobia win, it's just terrifying," she says. "I'm terrified, sometimes, to be out ... but honestly, I can't let fear rule my life."

Maddie says her parents are accepting of her sexuality. Her dad's an engineer and her mom is a travel agent; both are progressive Democrats who supported Hillary Clinton. Her older sister is also gay.

Maddie didn't struggle with figuring out her sexuality, she says; it was more of "a thing that just happened." As well as gay, she identifies as pansexual — a person whose sexual preferences aren't limited to any specific gender.

But since the election, she has wrestled with what it means to be a minority in America. Many of her friends are in the LGBT community, others are brown or black, some are Muslim.

She says they've been talking more about how to navigate any hate directed at them. How, if it happens at school, they should "get a teacher, be supportive of each other, and try to be there as much as possible."

Maddie has a close group of friends from school whom she texts with constantly and goes to the mall with on weekends. She also has a group of friends she's met online through Instagram fan accounts for her favorite bands, Fifth Harmony and One Direction. They live as close as Alabama and as far away as England and Singapore.

Each weekday afternoon, Maddie helps a family friend with special needs get off the school bus and get to her home. She hopes to become a social worker someday.

"I want to help kids who don't have the best life," she says.

In the weeks following the election, Maddie says she's felt a greater responsibility to speak out about her sexuality.

"I've been less scared to open up about it," she says. "I wasn't completely out with everyone before."

She says she's been "embracing myself more" and wants to have a louder voice. That includes a message for people like her and her friends.

"For all the people who aren't white, straight male cisgender: You need to stand up for yourself," she says, "It's going to be a really hard four years of your life.

"Tell people what you're thinking. Don't just sit there."

His parents are from Mexico; he voted for Trump

'The tensions really came out'

Hector Cabrera is 18, Hispanic -- and the only Trump supporter in his family.

"I believe in strong immigration reform," he says. It's a position that puts the California college freshman at odds with his immigrant parents.

His mom and dad met in Mexico, came to America legally in the 1990s and are now citizens -- which is how Hector believes it should be.

"I feel like there's a lot of hardworking people in Mexico who would like to come here and they're waiting a legal way," he says.

"And then these people are taking the illegal shortcut. And they're just taking the opportunities from the people who could have come here legally."

Most of his family, though, are registered Democrats. His sister was a Bernie Sanders supporter.

In the months leading up to the election, politics was a big topic of conversation at the dinner table and family reunions.

"The tensions really came out," he says.

His parents would ask him, "Think of it if you were in other people's shoes. What if you were the child of an illegal, what if we didn't have papers, and how would you feel?"

"What I say is, 'Luckily, I'm not in those shoes so I don't have to think about that.' That's usually my response."

His parents, he thinks, have empathy for immigrants since they have "been in those immigrants' shoes, they know what it feels like."

Hector grew up in Bakersfield, California, surrounded by family -- aunts, uncles and cousins. His father, an auto mechanic, lived in America on and off during his childhood. His mother, a stay-at-home mom, came here only after getting married. Her family still lives in Mexico, and she returns to visit regularly. But Hector has been there only once.

"They obviously don't agree with my immigration policy," Hector says. "I think they just want everyone to come here, you know, with no restrictions, almost an open border system.

"They didn't like that I was a Trump supporter, they didn't understand any reason behind it," he says. "They wouldn't listen."

He tried to persuade them to vote based on issues he thought would affect them more directly than immigration -- issues like taxes and job creation.

"Youth unemployment is pretty high," Hector says. "As we bring back jobs, it would benefit me and my generation."

Hector works 18 hours a week at Costco while taking a full college load. In four years, he hopes to have graduated college and found a job. His sister is a receptionist. He says he's always dreamed of getting an office job, moving out of his parents' house, and starting his life.

"My father, he was always pushing that we did well in school so we would have a better life than him."

Such aspirations are part of his parents' immigrant dream.

She's Muslim and wants to be president

'I'm a big fan of hope'

For every hateful comment she's heard, Azanta Thakur also tells the story of a supportive friend.

In the days and weeks after the election, Azanta says she heard people say "Here comes the Taliban" when she approached in her hijab. Her father, a gas station owner, got death threats from customers.

"Someone told me to get ready to go back to my country," says Azanta, an 18-year-old Muslim-American who is the daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants.

But Azanta spent her entire life growing up in one house on one street in a Florida beach town -- the place where she learned about the American dream, where the same neighbors with Trump yard signs also helped her family patch up their house after Hurricane Matthew punched a tree through the roof.

She tells of peers who offered to walk her to class after the election if she was scared.

"Yes I can be afraid," she says, admitting to fears of getting on a plane in her hijab. "But I can't let that be the overwhelming winning emotion."

Instead, she's dreaming big. A quintessentially American dream: She wants to grow up to be president.

"Every time I say it I'm just so worried about my own reactions," the bubbly college freshman says, hesitating uncharacteristically. "I want -- I want to be president one day."

"We just elected another white man to office. We haven't elected a woman yet."

Azanta says she was "devastated" by Trump's win. She says she would have voted for Clinton but only turned 18 three days after the election.

"If I could ever become president, I would be the first Muslim female."

Azanta has begun working toward her dream: A freshman at Boston University, she's taking classes in international relations and political philosophy, and has an internship lined up next semester with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat.

"I'm a big fan of hope," she says.

But she also knows the inherent and complex realities of being not only a Muslim American but also the daughter of immigrants.

"That whole American dream was appealing to them. But it didn't turn out to be all it's said to be. It really disappointed my dad," she says. "They're afraid to hope and they're afraid to dream."

Her father's brother, a dentist, studied at Harvard University and brought his brothers to America. Her father worked as a paperboy in New York in 1984 and moved to Daytona Beach in 1989, buying a gas station with his siblings' help. Azanta's family has lived there ever since; both parents work at the station.

But they wanted more for their children. Azanta has an older sister, and their mother hoped one of her girls would become a doctor. It's the "classic immigrant story," Azanta explains: Her parents grew up in Bangladesh and had an arranged marriage. For Bangladeshi women, she says, "you might go to college, but you're going to get married, have kids, and essentially be a housewife for the rest of your life."

Her sister also majored in international relations. She's now married, lives at home with her parents -- her husband is still in Bangladesh, waiting for a visa -- and works part time as a history teacher. In some ways, Azanta says, she feels like she's her mother's "last hope."

Azanta calls her mother "the feminist in my life," the person who taught her that she could do anything and be anything.

But they also have their own dreams for their youngest daughter: major in pre-med, become a doctor, get married, have children and settle in a relatively small town like they did. They're worried the Warren internship will distract from her classes.

Azanta hasn't yet told her mother that her own American dream is bigger: that she doesn't want to have a medical practice, a white picket fence and a nuclear family, that she wants to chase her dreams to Washington, that she wants to be president one day.

She says she once tried to mention it jokingly, asking her mom, "What if I became president?" She remembers her mother laughed and said, "Azanta, don't even think about it, don't even try."

A swing-state voter, he understands Trump's appeal

'We see the culture changing'

When it came time to cast his first vote for president, 18-year-old Sean O'Connor didn't like the options on the ballot, so he wrote in his own choice: Mitt Romney.

The politically engaged high school senior from Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, had been following the 2016 campaign closely, even attending a GOP primary debate in Texas.

But when it came time to choose between Clinton and Trump, he couldn't. Both "were unqualified to be president in their own ways," he says, and he wanted to vote his conscience.

"I just didn't feel comfortable voting for either candidate because I would feel responsible for whatever things they would do," he says.

For Sean and his family, the election wasn't about issues, but about the way the world is changing -- both socially and economically.

Raised in Massachusetts, Sean moved to Pennsylvania in 2011 with his parents and younger sisters. They now live in Allentown, which decades ago was part of a booming steel industry.

He says he understands why Trump won Pennsylvania and the election.

"I think the President is partly to blame for the type of election we've had," he says. "I feel that he's marginalized a majority of this country, that being white males, and I think that Clinton tried to build the same coalition but failed miserably.

"A lot of social conservatives that I know, they're startled by how quickly culture is changing," he says. "I know it's hard to say to say that without sounding negative, but ... we see the culture changing around us a lot."

He says his parents feel the same way. His father, a former Army Ranger who now works in an office, and his stay-at-home mom have been "thrown off by how fast the country is changing."

"It's not that people are narrow-minded," he says. "Things are going too fast for some people. ... If you don't consider the people left behind, people are going to react violently in terms of who they support."

Sean is fascinated by politics and public service.

His classes and extracurricular activities are politically minded: he's taking AP US Government; he's the editor-in-chief of his high school newspaper; he writes about political topics (his last article was about the "greatest generation"); he's an officer of his school's political science club; and he attends Model United Nations conferences.

In his free time, he likes to read books; presidential history is his favorite genre.

And even though he didn't support Clinton or Trump, he made plans to go to Washington to watch the next president get sworn in -- regardless of who it was.

He says he is especially excited to witness the peaceful transition of power.

"What I hope to see at the inauguration is that I hope to see politics ... get set aside. I want people to appreciate the fact that we're getting a new leader and nobody has to fight it," he says.

"I just want a celebration of American democracy."

Sean also says he's optimistic about a Trump presidency.

"I want the United States to continue to be the world's most powerful country ... the world's truest country," he says. "If that happens, and we get our own freedoms, me, my family, my friends will have the best chance to succeed."