Marginalization has become synonymous with my identity. Being an outsider has just been a way of life. Even through the plight of racism, we have done our part in turning the other cheek or standing up for our people but it was to no avail because it was just another reminder that we will always be seen as immigrants, foreigners or strangers.
Amidst election season, we would vote just as any other citizen of this country yet even while exercising this right, we can’t seem to escape the discrimination that plagues the minds of certain individuals. My home state of New Jersey has always given me a sense of comfort and belonging even when we were made to feel different. It wasn’t until the events of this election that I experienced first hand how deep the adversities of minorities go even while they aim to make a change.
Even in a town that seems to be beaming with diversity at every corner, prejudice seems to find a way to seep in through the cracks. Edison, my hometown, experienced this notion when flyers were sent out to everyone in the township that targeted two Asian-American candidates for school board. The flyers read, “Make Edison Great Again,” “deport,” “The Chinese and Indians are taking over our town. … Enough is Enough,” etc.
This anti-Asian sentiment is unfortunately nothing new, however it comes more as a shock to Edison, as that is New Jersey’s fifth largest municipality and it is half Asian. Just when the weight of being seen as the foreigners was started to be lifted from our shoulders, we were thrown into a time where the word “deport” became commonplace and suddenly anything you did made you a target.
For me, the residents of Edison, the candidates targeted by this flyer and anyone who saw this and felt just as disgusted, this is nothing less than a bias and hate crime. The senders of this flyer did nothing more than disguise their own prejudice and racist ideologies with political rhetoric. Every individual of Asian-American background felt as if they all took a step backwards due to this; as if all they worked towards in their professional and personal lives was for nothing because they will never be treated as equals. Diversity was one of the reasons that Edison felt like home for so many people. They found a place that didn’t treat them as the minority or the outsider group. The array of culture was celebrated, not rejected.
This is why the election of Ravi Bhalla as the new mayor of Hoboken was the boost we deserved. Ravi Bhalla faced his own set of hatred when flyers were distributed throughout Hoboken that claimed he was a terrorist. “Don’t let TERRORISM take over our town.” Rather than succumbing to fear and letting hatred win, he took that opportunity to dismantle the notion that racism would be tolerated. Instead, he asserted how diverse communities thrive by the content of people’s character, not their skin color or how they worship.
This success meant something to each person that felt victimized by the hateful speech that was spread as a way to undermine the progress Asian-Americans have made. Electing someone such as Ravi Bhalla, an Indian-American that remains true to his culture and faith, to be the mayor of such a major American city proves just how resilient minorities have become. They have faced racism in all its degrees yet kept fighting each day to finally be accepted in a country that only saw them as immigrants.
Bhalla openly accepts his background and faith and all those who voted and supported him proved that they accept him without letting religion come in the way. Not only is this a big step forward but it is also a vital shift in the way Asian-Americans are perceived and treated. After constantly struggling to create a place for ourselves within this country, this election has allowed us to be able to maintain our identity without hesitation and worship who we choose and still find our own place within the American journey.
“I didn’t run as the Sikh candidate,” he said. “I ran as the candidate who happened to be Sikh.”
During this period where we feel the country dividing and the notions we thought we left behind reappearing, it is humbling to see an act of unity such as this. It’s a time where people who may not even have been victimized felt strongly enough to voice their opinions loud and clear. During a time of division, this proved the true strength of unison.
Since last year’s election, the country seems to have a dark cloud looming where all our biggest fears keep coming true. It has brought with it intense and discriminatory political communication along with a fear to step forward and make a change. Amidst the chaos of hate, Ravi Bhalla was elected mayor and the two targeted school board candidates also won. It was a step forward against the current forcing us to stay quiet. We, or our ancestors, did not come here to just be treated as second-class citizens and take subjugation. We are here to prove how successful we can be on our own and help progress this country out of this period where diversity within an election no longer creates such a panic.
Maybe instead of wasting time creating disgusting flyers, we should take the time to think about how we seem to be okay allowing a racist man who has assaulted women be our president, and how we can allow the attorney general to defend treason, and how a child molestor can run for Senate, but we are the most afraid of having diversity be a prominent feature of the country.