Yesterday I was sitting in a restaurant in Nepal--7,500 miles away from my home in the USA--and had my first post-election encounter that I knew would eventually happen. A white woman from the USA asked me if I was Latina. I looked at her directly and said very firmly, "no I am not." I wasn't upset at her faux pas of asking me if I was Latina. But, I was upset because it is clear to me that the racial injustice has already begun. There are millions of people affected by this election who are terrified for their lives and their future right now. To be clear, I know I have not suffered nearly as much as other people being targeted right now. But, I have suffered enough to get just an idea of how they must be feeling right now. So, let me share my story with you and why we will not be silent about this issue.
The first 18 years of my life were spent in a predominately white town. In grammar school, I didn't look like most of the other children. I am mixed raced (my father immigrated from India and my mother is white) and from an early age, I knew that many of the other children at my school judged me for my skin color. I can still remember coming home from school crying and desperately wishing that I could change my skin color to be fair like my mother's. My self-portraits from school are a painful memory of this fact since they feature me having blonde hair and blue eyes -- not my brown skin and brown eyes.
Many children teased me as well. Two accounts that stand out for me are the following: The first happened when I was in 6th grade and was told to go back to the Indian reservation, which didn't even make sense considering I am not Native American. Still, that statement stung me and I felt even more desperate to fit in. However, one of the worst experiences I had was when I was in 8th grade after 9/11. Someone I considered a friend came up to me and asked if my dad was a terrorist. He taunted me and left me feeling unnerved. I went home and cried for hours after this account.
But, things got better for me. At 18, I left for college in Washington, DC. Upon my graduation in 2006 I packed my bags and started traveling and living abroad. It was during this time I could truly accept who I was as a person and no longer feared being different. I took pride in my brown skin and heritage. As I traveled to different countries I always felt so fortunate to be from the USA -- a country home to people from around the world each contributing different culture, customs and religions to our nation.
So, post-election, how do I feel?
I am still proud of my brown skin and I am still proud to be from the USA.
I am not that same scared little girl that I was 20 years ago wishing I could have white skin. But, I am horrified by the bullying that is currently going on towards children in the USA. I also feel sickened by the fact that so many people are terrified for their lives right now because of their skin color, religious background or sexual orientation.
Next year, after several years living abroad, I will be living in the USA again. I know that many more people will ask me if I am Latina or if I am Muslim and I am OK with that. I will stand tall to defend my country that was built upon principles to accept and tolerate people of all races, genders, orientations, and religious backgrounds. I will not be silent on any of these matters. Alone, my voice will not be heard. However, collectively we can make change. We can progress. We can triumph. So, I encourage you to stand tall with me. Don't be silent. Embrace those who are suffering most post-election. Our forefathers fought for this freedom, and we cannot lose the fight to ignorance and blind hatred.