Last week, I saw a video on my friend’s Facebook that stirred up strong feelings.
The video showed a very angry Caucasian woman shouting out loud, “Go back to your f***ing country, this is my country!!”
This wasn’t the first time I heard this. I have heard it many times in video or in person, sometimes from friends and my clients who went through it, and I usually let it go.
However, this time, I didn’t want to let it go. Because this is a huge hindrance for cultural integration for newcomers and new Americans who would like to integrate into the USA culture. So, I decided to write a blog about it.
As a newcomer to America, I didn’t immediately feel like I belonged here. It took a lot of hard work to learn and understand the culture for five years before I became an American on paper.
My naturalization ceremony was one of the few extraordinary experiences I ever had in my life. During the oath-taking portion, it was so emotional for me, I even shed tears. My dad, who was there with my mom to celebrate with me, asked me later, “ Senait, why the tears?” I told him, “Because it is so beautiful, these are now my people.”
And it was indeed beautiful! Right before taking the oath, the announcer called out the names of the countries we all came from. On the bench in front of me were an Indian family, a Somali couple, and a Russian woman.
To my right was a British woman standing, to my left was an Elderly Chinese Man, and behind me was a family from Australia, a girl from Vietnam, and a man from Germany. The room was filled with people from all over the world.
Then, we were asked to raise our right hands, to take the oath pledging allegiance to The American flag, which apparently stands for "liberty and justice for all".
There were claps, shouting, laughter, and tears, and you could see the joy in everyone's face congratulating each other. At that moment, we all felt a sense of connectedness and belonging to this great nation called America, a nation bound by the shared values of freedom, liberty, and equality.
We sang “America the Beautiful” together, and right there, we understood the value of being an American and what America is made of.
All this happened after going through the application process that took time, energy, and money. Then, we had to study for English and Civic tests. Then, we had to go to a biometric appointment and then finally schedule and attend a naturalization interview after spending many hours studying, wondering if we studied enough, and feeling nervous with sweaty hands.
After all that, we passed our test and took the oath. So, there was also a sense of relief and fulfillment. We belong to this nation and to each other.
Whether you have gone through the naturalization process yet or you are a newcomer, it’s obvious we live in one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world.
We have left everything and everyone we know behind because we believed that the USA is a beacon of light, hope, and refuge.
And one day to hear something like, “Go back to your country,” a hateful, racist, and xenophobic comment, which is usually accompanied by anger, could leave us feeling angry, betrayed, and in tears. Like we don’t belong here.
This is true even if you have been in this country for many years. It's shocking to hear them in whatever form it appears.
“Go back to Mexico, and learn English.”
“Go back to China, and take your virus with you.”
“Go back to Africa.”
“Leave my country and go back to wherever you came from.”
“Go back! You, Taliban.”
Whichever way you hear it, it is a very hurtful thing to hear and affects all of us immigrants.
And this is a normal reaction and feeling, but this feeling becomes intimidating if you are a newcomer or a new American citizen.
So, how do we deal with our emotions, continue to love our new home and build our life to achieve the American dream in peace, joy, and confidence, and eventually feel like we belong here while faced with this kind of negativity?
If you look at history, a racist and xenophobic comment “Go back to your country!” isn’t new in the USA. However, since last year’s racist verbal attack by the president of the United States on 4 female congress members in public, it seems like this occurrence is on the rise and you or someone you know might encounter someone telling you those things.
I will give you a few tips here that work for me and a lot of people around me to handle the feelings and emotions that come with that assault.
1. Understand a few don’t represent the whole of America.
In life, I am sure you have met positive people who will build you up and negative and hateful people who try to do the opposite. This is true no matter where you live or who you are. And the USA isn’t an exception. We all have met negative people who are rude that cut the line, friends who gossip, a stranger who screams at you because they think you didn’t provide them a great service, and the most hurtful of all is the racist and xenophobic people who tell you to “go back to your country”.
And when we meet these kinds of people, their negativity really clouds our minds it let us think the worst in Americans, even if it is temporary.
In a similar way, for example, it's common to hear a woman who was betrayed by her husband to not trust men again. You may hear her say you can’t trust all men, but we know that is not true. It's just the anger and hurt talking and clouding her judgment. You get my point.
Just because you hear someone hateful telling you or your loved ones to “go back to your country,” don’t think the entire America population thinks or feels that way or will tell you that. Remember those people that tell you that don’t represent all of America.
In fact, the majority of American’s are angry about this. Most Americans are welcoming, curious, and really capable of integrating into what immigrants bring.
2. This isn’t about you, this is about them
Those people that are aggressive and keep saying those hurtful things have the characteristics of bullies. You know we have all met a bully at school that tries to look powerful by intimidating their peers by picking on them, calling them names, and even sometimes getting physical.
We didn’t know this back then, but now we know bullies are just people who feel insecure and fearful and want to feel powerful by making their victims feel alone and powerless.
The people that say those hurtful things want us to think we are less than because they were here first.
So, when you encounter people like this hold your ground. Be confident in yourself and know those people are nothing but bullies and are not the voice of America.
If you encounter those people at work, report them. Don’t give them the power they are desperately looking for by crying or being defensive, just tell them you are home, even if you are not yet an American and you are an American.
If you encounter those people outside and you don’t know them, I would prefer you just ignore them because arguing with them or responding to their comment might fuel the fire, and I really don’t want you to get hurt.
3. Know those people are Not well informed
Last year, my client’s sweet daughter, Angelica, talking to me about someone that told her friend to go back to Mexico while walking with her mom in the grocery store and talking in Spanish. She told me with tears in her eyes, “But my friend is an American, she was born here, and she has never been to Mexico.” The hurt that she was feeling brought tears to my eyes too.
Those people who use that sentence towards others have no idea who is who, who was born here, or is an immigrant.
If you are speaking any foreign language, they label you as an outsider unless you are European looking. If they see that you are dressed in traditional clothes from your culture, they think you are an outsider. Everyone that doesn’t speak English, dress like a westerner, and act like one is now labeled as an outsider by those few ignorant people, who utter those sentences and attack innocent people.
The word immigrant has been misunderstood. They also might think you are here in the US illegally just because you don’t fit their category of being an American. They might even ignorantly believe that they have to defend America and by saying what they say like it’s an act of patriotism.
Don’t let their ignorance intimidate you. Those people don’t have any clue what they are talking about. They don’t know anything about how immigration works in the US.
Know your rights, feel confident, and just know if you are a US citizen, or have a green card, you are legally in this country. When you hear those sentences, know that ignorance is at work.
If you are here and don’t have all your paperwork, still know you have rights and stay in your confidence while sorting out your paperwork if you can to abide by the law through consulting organizations or experts. Know that no human being deserves to be treated like that.
4. Know you are home!
As someone who studied sociology and anthropology, cultural diversity is a great fascination for me.
It's incredible to me how so many cultures coexist in this great nation. Sharing their culture with one another, sharing their cuisines, and all that.
While writing this, I took a break to take a small walk. During my walk towards the park, I passed by and said hello to a very sweet Indian family with their little adorable girl, a young Caucasian boy was on his skateboard who smiled at me, an Asian woman running past me with a node, an old couple sitting enjoying the nice weather, a man wearing a turban. Ahhh, beautiful America.
Next time anybody makes you feel like you don’t belong here, look around you, and know you are home where you belong.
Pay attention when you see a Filipino origin nurse welcomes and treats you when you see a doctor that has an accent that makes you wonder where he is from.
Pay attention when your nice Caucasian neighbor brings you some goodies to welcome you to your new neighborhood, When a mother in her hijab smiles at you while picking up her kids at your child’s school.
Pay attention when you see your gardener who comes and takes good care of your garden, and even with his limited English, treats you kindly. When you see the teacher with an Indian accent who works so hard to make your kids a productive part of society. The list goes on. Pay attention, see, and appreciate the beauty of America. And fuel yourself with that sense of belonging.
We are all working so hard towards cultural integration, but it is a two-way street. People who are born here also go through the cultural integration process like we do, in order to integrate what we bring to the table. And most are curious, happy to learn, expand their views, and evolve with everyone else.
Unfortunately, those very few people you hear shout those hurtful sentences are people who refuse to integrate, they don't want to grow and evolve with the rest of us.
From experience, you know that cultural integration is hard work and takes time. Have compassion for those people who are not there yet and continue to appreciate other cultures and learn about them. Because in the end, the only person we can change is ourselves.
5. Participate in your community:
Be more engaged in your community.
It’s very natural when you first move to any new place to stick to what you know. To engage only with people who speak your language, who are from your own religious group, and people who you feel comfortable with.
However, eventually, it’s important for you to make an effort to step outside of your community and have friends from other cultures and learn to appreciate their uniqueness. Put aside your judgment and work on culturally integrating fully to this colorful and beautiful country that we call home while you are introducing your values and way of belief. After all, we teach others best by being an example.
Vote for people that believe in The United States of America, not in a ‘Divided’ States of America. If politics is your thing, run for local and government offices and represent your community.
Be confident and proud of being an American, and bring your beautiful beliefs, ideas, culture, and most of all, those delicious cuisines from your country of origin.
I hope you found value in those few tips. Please share with me if you have found other ways to deal with this situation that might be useful to others.