Stand for Something: This is Where I’m From

Photo by Rick Brennan/ Longmont Observer

I’ve written previously about “Where are you from?”

There are essentially two versions of the question. The first is asking about where I lived before I was in Longmont, or perhaps where my hometown is. In my previous column, I addressed my difficulty answering that question and how much I love Longmont. I’m not quite to the point where I tell people I’m from Longmont, but its certainly where I tell people home is.

This is a column about the other version of that question.

Sometimes when people ask, “Where are you from?” they want to know about the color of my skin, or my ethnicity. When it’s about my heritage and how I came to be an American, I’m happy to engage in a conversation with someone who might never have knowingly met an immigrant. Without being ostentatious, I carefully choose my words to make it clear that while I was born in India, America is where I’m from. I am an American.

As an immigrant, the past couple of weeks have been unsettling.

Now that President Donald Trump is leading a lynch mob with the rough edges sanded off, it’s especially important for elected officials to stand up to him. Unfortunately, Senator Cory Gardner can’t take time out of his schedule to meet constituents because he’s busy singing the praises of a different race baiting xenophobe. Representative Ken Buck, on the other hand, thinks criticism of the President makes donning a Klan robe fair game.

It’s hard to feel safe when your most directly elected federal officials would probably be okay with white collar Nazis burning a cross on your front lawn. After all, I’ve criticized the President too.

It never occurs to me that someone might think of me as a second class citizen. They might look down on me because of the color of my skin, or because of my politics, but to question my very right to live here always seemed beyond the pale.

I’ve lived in racist places in the past, and been told to go back to where I came from. Yet it never seemed possible that we would question the very concept of immigration, that we welcome to our shores those seeking a better life. Until recently, I believed that everyone who called themselves American were unified not by their race, religion, or place of birth. We are not unified by how we got here, our politics, or our pass times.

I thought that anyone wanting to don the mantle of American would be unified by their values. Honesty. Integrity. Freedom of speech. That what we make together is greater than we could be alone. A government formed by the consent of the governed.

I still believe that Americans are born all over the world. Sometimes it just takes us a while to come home.

I now understand that not everyone who calls themselves an American has the courage to defend its ideals. Attack me for my politics, attack me for my beliefs, attack me because of the color of my skin. But America is the only home I’ve ever known, and no one gets to attack me just because I wasn’t born here. I am a Citizen of the United States of America. Not a second-class citizen. I was created equal. To attempt to undermine any Americans’ citizenship is un-American, and to fail to defend others against that attack is cowardly and unworthy.

What I now understand from their assent for Trump’s words and behavior is that in view of the average Republican, it is okay for the President of the United States to undermine the rights and freedoms of an American citizen, as long as he doesn’t do it to anyone white.

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  1. Word. And shame on them. What this episode in our history has done for me is devalue my citizenship. I don’t use it if I can avoid it. The people of our city are “residents” not “citizens” because so many worthy ones lack the documents that make them safe from persecution. This patriot is not currently proud to be American. But doing my damnedest to make it possible again soon.

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