The store was crammed with customers; everyone looking for the shortest possible line and the quickest way out of the chaos. I was only purchasing one item, amidst a crowd of people struggling to keep all their items in order. As I patiently waited, I heard yelling come from a cashier near my line. He barked, “If you can’t speak English, get out of this country,” directing his words towards a middle-aged Indian woman who mistakenly went to the wrong line because she couldn’t read the signs. Instead of calmly guiding her, he took an approach filled with the utmost ignorance. As she stood there in fear, still unaware of what was happening, the man continued his speech, “Once Trump is president, you will all be gone anyway. He will make things right and cleanse this country.”
I’ve always told myself that if I was ever placed in a situation such as this one, I would speak up — I thought it would be a natural instinct. However, I did quite the opposite. I left the line, threw my one item on a shelf near the exit and went back to my car. Defending the existence of my family, my culture and my heritage within America had become draining, especially within this election cycle. Seeing another individual embody Trump’s hateful rhetoric right in front of me amplified everything. The fear, the aversion, the discrimination — it was all intensified. The stares and occasional comments felt miniscule in that moment. Trump had reignited the fear that as a minority, we didn’t belong. Now, that started to feel like a reality.
It’s always interesting to hear people discuss their stance on Trump and then turn to me and ask, “So how do you feel about him?” for the sole reason that I am South Asian and a great deal of his dialogue pertains to Islam and Sikhism and the mocking of an entire region. From my perspective, what I can say with full certainty is that he and everything he stands for terrify me.
Trump’s campaign for the presidency has unearthed a racism throughout the country, and this has made me afraid to speak freely about anything pertaining to my heritage, culture or religion. It has brought many people just like me back into the shadows since you can never be completely sure who exactly his words have resonated with. It has become increasingly difficult to even partake in political conversations as recent developments have shown that almost all aspects of South Asian culture are now up for debate within a country that considers us to be outsiders.
Just like a vast number of other first-generation Americans, I can attest to all the financial and colloquial difficulties along with the social and cultural exclusion that my family has been challenged with since they came to this country. I’ve witnessed it first hand. My parents left behind comfort, safety and everything familiar to improve the lives of their children. They worked at assimilating and getting themselves accustomed to a new life here, while remaining true to their roots. Being granted citizenship came with a sense of pride and an opportunity to rightfully add “American” to their identity. As a community, we have seen ourselves progress greatly within this nation by blending the two cultures and rising above the status of being a minority. Yet, it seems we have fallen all the way back down within the past few months through the words of one hateful man. My family has been brought back to their first year in America where they felt targeted, ostracized and judged.
Despite being born and raised here, it feels as if I have been brought back to when my family immigrated to the United States. The same racism, prejudice and discrimination has now regrown but this time with one main figure perpetuating all of it. Trump has reignited the same fear my family felt more than 30 years ago and now he is backed by almost half the nation. The progress we thought we made is slowly diminishing right in front of us with every word he says. Knowing that every bit of advancement we have made as a community within this country can be wiped away instantly if he becomes the next president is far worse than just unsettling. The anxiety of not being good enough that was felt by every immigrant is now being felt by their children as well.
Assimilation does not even seem to be a solution at this point. As much as we try to prove the “American” aspect of our identities, we are shut down instantly because of stereotypes which have been accentuated almost to a point of no recovery. We are no longer targeted because our parents weren’t born here. Now, it is because we embrace our own heritage instead of accommodating and this seems to be threatening. Our lack of adjustment and the intermingling of our culture and religion seems to stray from this “great society” that Trump has imagined. He has decided to use exactly that against us by highlighting every aspect of our identity in an incredibly negative light. Instead of moving forward, we have fallen far back.
So to anyone who asks me how I feel about Trump, this is my response.