"Go back where you came from!"
Two days after Donald Trump was elected president, I was in the staff room at work. My assistant principal walked in and we started talking about the election. She shared with me that she was having a hard time hearing the stories that were becoming more and more popular, just 48 hours after Trump was elected. She was at an administrator meeting the day before and another assistant principal shared with her that on Wednesday, two Latino boys were outside in the parking lot after the first bell had rung. He went out to see if they were okay and learned that they were afraid to come into school...a school they attended and had been attending. They thought that as soon as they walked in, they’d be deported. This is middle school.
Then we talked about a story from the University of Washington, where a college student who is half Guamanian and half Filipino was harassed by another student and told to “go back to where he came from”. This struck me. I froze and it was one of the most surreal moments I’ve experienced. I froze because I’m Guamanian and sometime around the year 1999, my mom and I were told those exact words.
So here’s the story: I’m a Navy brat. I’ve grown up in mostly diverse areas because my dad was in the military. Most of the people I was around when I was growing up were people of color. I never really thought about my ethnicity...until that day. I was in 9th grade and my mom was going to park in a parking lot so we could go into a store. There was a cart in the spot, so she asked me to get out and move it so she could park. I waited, with the cart, behind the car next to us. An older white man came out said to me, “it’s not nice to leave your cart by my car.” I replied, “oh, we just got here, I was moving it so it wouldn’t hit your car when my mom parked.” He mumbled something. My mom got out and asked, “Is there a problem?” He said to her, “I was just telling your daughter it’s not nice to leave your cart by my car.” My mom repeated what I had already told him, to which he replied, “Whatever! You people are always being lazy, why don’t you just go back to wherever it is you came from!” That is the exact moment, that I’ll never forget...that I realized that I am brown and although I never thought about it, other people did...and did often.
My mom and dad had learned a lot of the Chamorro culture from their parents. Growing up, my siblings and I never really got a lot of the culture passed down from my parents. Sure, my parents would cook the food, but they never taught us the language or spoke the language around us. We visited Guam once for a funeral, but only because we lived in Japan and the flight wasn’t very long. I remember my mom always saying she wanted us to be Americanized. What I didn’t learn until later is that: they wanted us to be Americanized because they had a hard time in school, being so immersed in the Chamorro culture, they didn’t really fit in. And secondly, that to be Americanized means to be white.
So, here I am...an “Americanized” woman of color. The truth is, though my parents did their best to get me to assimilate to American/white culture and norms, society still sees me as a person of color. So with this Trump presidency, many people are coming out of the woodworks and are being overt about how they really feel towards people of color.
To my family and friends who are saying that people of color need to “get over it” and that the more we talk about it, the more divisive it gets, I have to be really honest. That hurts deep. I’m not overly sensitive or easily offended, I have a story that you can probably never understand and I’m not blaming you for that. I do ask that you validate my story and stand by me.
If you can’t understand my struggle, there is probably nothing I can say that will make you understand. But here’s what hurts. It hurts when my parents are given atta-boys and atta-girls for wanting my siblings and I to be “Americanized” because now I’ve missed out on huge part of my identity. It hurts when I see people I love post things that say that the racism I experience is just me being sensitive. It hurts when people I love say they want me to make them our traditional food, yet in the same day I hear them complain about “foreigners not speaking English”. So, you want our food, but you don’t want the rest of our culture? You want to just pick the parts of me you like and keep those?
There is probably nothing I can ever say to make these people understand. I just ask that if you’re still reading this, instead of getting defensive or writing this off as me being sensitive, make it about me for a second. Put yourself in my shoes because I have to face you every day, whether in person or online. You are the people whom I love and sometimes, your words and actions have caused me deep pain. I still love you and will continue to care for you regardless. I just hope that you can at least empathize and understand that you may never know how these experiences have affected me and how your words about my identity have affected me.