As a young girl, I grew up in my parents' small business, Phở 90. Both my mother and father were extraordinary cooks running a restaurant that specialized in phở, a noodle soup that is arguably the most famous Vietnamese dish.
This restaurant was located in a small shopping center in Chantilly, Virginia, where I grew up. The cul-de-sac a minute's walk from our family home was a diverse neighborhood; if you knocked on every door on that street, I could almost guarantee that each person who answered would speak a different language. We were used to encountering people of many races and ethnicities, and while there were neighborhood fights - my oldest brother once defended our other brother after some teenagers stole his basketball shoes - most of us were friends from a young age. We were not colorblind. We experienced one another's cultures as our relationships grew from trading Pokémon cards and playing tag to occasionally enjoying meals at one another's homes.
My family moved down to Canton, Georgia when I was nine years old, and I wasn't naïve enough to act as if racism didn't exist. My parents themselves grew up with predisposed notions about other races, and they made that clear.
However, the scrutiny I received when I attended my first day of fourth grade in Canton was discomforting, as well as the first birthday party my parents threw for me in our new Georgia home, where a ten-year-old boy walked up to my family's Buddhist shrine and kicked the apple my parents had placed in it as a traditional offering. This ten-year-old boy vandalized property within our home purely because our beliefs were different from his white Christian family's, yet we shared our culture with him, and he ate the food my parents prepared for him that day. What ever happened to honoring hospitality?
As I grew into adolescence and grew closer to the families in Canton, I often went out to eat with them, and many times I was invited over for a meal. I quickly learned that my friends frequented a Mexican restaurant outside one of the biggest neighborhoods in our county. In all my nine years of living in Canton, I knew two minority families who lived in that neighborhood, and for the most part, no one gave them grief. The neighborhood was home to upper middle and upper class families, and because they were similar in terms of wealth, it seemed that there was little else to disagree upon.
Three weeks ago, when I returned briefly to my hometown, this neighborhood and the one I lived in when I was nine had filled their lawns with "Vote for Trump" signs.
It took me years to put my finger on why the popularity of that Mexican restaurant in the eyes of these families got under my skin, and I thank these signs for pointing me in the right direction.
On Cinco De Mayo, Donald Trump posted a photo of him eating a pseudo-Mexican dish in his own Trump Tower Grill saying, "Happy #CincoDeMayo! The best taco bowls are made in Trump Tower Grill. I love Hispanics!"
We discuss cultural appropriation when we say that dressing as a Native American for Halloween is offensive. We tattoo dreamcatchers on our bodies and forget the struggle of Native Americans who were denied their rights and kicked off their own land. We listen and dance to hip hop and take advantage of African-American culture while denying them not only the movement of, but the very words, "Black Lives Matter." We tell blacks that ALL lives matter and pretend that the civil rights movement is over. And now, we can point to one example of a rich white man appropriating Mexican (NOT "Hispanic") sustenance - the fundamental component of any culture.
To many of us, cuisine is culture; when we travel, we try new foods to learn about a place. Many of us watch the Travel Channel for vicarious exposure to these foods, seeing a country's dishes as a gateway to understanding their everyday lives and practices.
But let me say this right now: I have very little patience with those who have spoken to my parents with hand signals, thinking they are incompetent, and later tell me about their favorite Vietnamese restaurants in town.
I have very little patience with the times my friends and I found ourselves only interacting with middle-class (typically white) students who took honors and AP classes, ignoring that huge Mexican and Hispanic percentage of our high school because they spoke a different language in the hallway. Yet time and time again, after a basketball or football game, we all carpooled to La Parilla for some tacos and queso dip.
I have very little patience with Trump's blatant lack of cultural competence that allows him to believe that he can do both: eat Mexican food and enjoy the richness of their culture, and kick people - often non-white protesters -- out of his rallies for representing an ethnic or religious background that doesn't mesh with his bigoted shouts (which I cannot even call beliefs).
But most of all, I have very little patience with the people who crowd that place - and ethnic restaurants everywhere - while showing their support for Donald Trump, who discriminates against immigrants here, overseas, and specifically in Mexico.
Do you want to build a wall, Mr. Trump? Do you want to deny Mexicans the opportunity to live in America - which they do only with the sacrifice of time and closeness to their families as well as risking their hard-earned finances? Do you want more refugees to drown as they attempt to cross the ocean to reach our land of freedom? Do you want to discriminate against the immigrants who already call this place home, only to have you invalidate their humanity?
In that case, don't eat their - and our -- food. Stop serving fake Mexican food in your Trump Tower Grill, and stop eating Mediterranean dishes. Stop pretending that you have any right to enjoy any minority's food when you don't even want to look at people who aren't white - or orange - like you. If you won't stop encouraging hatred and racism, then stop enjoying our cooking.
And if you support Trump, then I say the same to you: you do not have our permission to enjoy the dishes of our cultures whilst rejecting us all as a part of society, so much so that you want to build a physical wall between America and Mexico. So much so that you want to start a war with anyone who doesn't agree with you. I hope you think America is "great again" without all of us enriching our shared culture with unique foods, languages, religions, and customs.
I personally love that you can find burgers, tacos, sushi, and pizza on the same street all over America. Our dream is to make America diverse, and yours is to live in a world devoid of ideas that disagree with yours. Yet you let us host you, you eat our food, and you turn away when we need you to stop a loud-mouthed, close-minded presidential candidate from muting us.
Be consistent with your bigotry. If this is the mindset you choose -- that of fear and ignorance -- then you are what you eat.
Enjoy your hatred, with a side of fries.