I have only ever lived here. I grew up in the picture-perfect definition of suburbia and I went to public school. I attended college and soon I will graduate and move on with my life, pursue a career and whatever else “good Americans” do. 

So tell me, why do so many people hate me?

No, I don’t mean me personally, I mean why do people seem to hate immigrants, refugees and their descendents? My father escaped to America because this great country tore apart his own. He had no choice but to flee and he came here with nothing.

If the same thing happened today, I don’t think he could’ve come to America. I don’t think that he would have been welcomed here. I don’t think he could’ve stayed here. I don’t think I would be here.

The sad truth about America is that in many places nationality is equated to skin color.  If someone looks a little darker or lighter than the norm, they are immediately not “us.” They have to be from somewhere else, because around here, “we don’t look like that.” They are seen as exotic and different and a thing to be scrutinized. Whether it be because you have “such a hot accent,” or you “speak English so well,” you cannot simply be an American.

I don’t think people understand what I mean when I talk about “othering.” “Othering” is when you take a group of people and completely commodify and exoticize them in a way to set them apart from you (thanks, Anthropology department). Have you ever felt so displaced by the very institutions that you belong to? Has someone ever questioned whether or not you belong in a space? At a meeting? In a class?

Have you ever had someone look at your official documents and doubt that they were real? Have you ever had someone look at you while holding your birth certificate and legitimately ask you if it was real, and if you were really born there?

I don’t know what else I can do.

This woman was holding the only copy that I have of my birth certificate and she looked me dead in the eye and asked if I was truly born there. When someone holds one of the most legitimate documents that you own and questions it, what else can you do to prove that it is real? I mean Jesus Christ, I am half Asian, and the institutions that surround me are annoying and misinformed. I can just imagine how much worse it gets the more “exotic” an individual gets.

We only make others different or “less than” because we need them to establish an identity for ourselves.  We can’t be America unless there are people who can be denied America. I look around this country and I can still see glimpses of what we could be. We could be diverse and accepting but for some godforsaken reason we are stuck in this hole of paralyzing fear of difference. 

No, I don’t think that we shouldn’t be scared. Fear can be healthy, but in the face of human suffering, as is the case with refugees, we cannot let fear deter us from helping those less fortunate. If we prize our own self-preservation over the well being of thousands because there is a minute chance that something terrible will happen, what does that make us? Everyday we make decisions that carry greater risks than helping someone escape death and torture in a country that we similarly tore apart.

We have crafted an identity of fear and paranoia, instead of crafting an identity that we can be proud of. I cannot brand myself with an identity that shuns difference. We need to embrace change, and people need to realize that we can be America, and “be great,” without using other people and cultures as a crutch.

hinhkh@miamioh.edu

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