I was thirteen, and sitting next to a blonde-haired boy that I had previously only discussed academic topics, with him often asking me for advice. He played sports and was a good artist- with rather accurate drawings of Spongebob. He was slightly too technology-obsessed for my taste, but usually, we got along.
This was no usual time, however. It was November 9th 2016, the day after the election, and everyone was still reeling from shock.
The results were the topic of conversation in every class, yet this one was different. Our teacher, who I knew to be a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton, had politely requested for us not to mention it- for the sake of herself and others, I would assume. We were finishing up our essays on a controversial abolitionist, and soon I was immersed into my work.
As I quietly worked on my conclusion paragraph, he abruptly turned to me and asked --somewhat accusingly-- “Are you afraid you are going to get sent back?”
Startled, I said, “Excuse me?”
No one else had heard his words, as everyone was in deep conversation about off-topic subjects. In fact, the voices of my fellow students were so loud, that I thought I had misheard him at first.
“You heard me,” he said, dismissing my thoughts of denial. “Are you afraid you are going to get sent back now that Trump won?”
I simply stared at him, in shock for a few moments. I knew he was a Trump supporter, as were most other conservatives in my class. But, I had never heard a direct comment towards me concerning Trump’s shortsighted views.
Did he think this was some kind of sick joke? The amusement suggested so, but there was also a hint of confusion too- most likely at my own puzzlement.
I opened my mouth to respond, but our teacher had heard the end of his comment, and scolded the two of us for “discussing a topic that was painful for many people, and that lunch passes would be taken if we were to mention it again.”
While I felt unjustly reprimanded for my alleged actions, it saved me an answer to his question. He didn’t say a word to me again that period, choosing to blatantly ignore me.
I was in a daze for the rest of the day, mulling over my reaction to his words. How could I have responded to such an offensive comment like that? I would question of myself as I sat in math class. When are you prepared to respond to an attack upon your character in that manner?
How dare he, I fumed at times. How dare he assume that about me!
His words were wrong in so many ways. One, was that I am just as “American as him”, I was born and raised here- seeing this was how he defined it earlier in the year. (I use quotations because I believe that being American has a looser definition than just being born here) Two, was that not all immigrants were undocumented. Three, was that he thought that Trump had the power to automatically deport 11.3 million undocumented Americans- like everything Trump said would and could come true.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am proud of my second-generation/third-generation immigrant status and my identity as a teenage girl of color. But, just because I am proud of my Filipina-American identity, does not in any way give him the right to question it.
At first, I wanted to scream at him. I wanted to angrily shout at him for saying such a thing- with perhaps a few insults included in there. Would that make me feel better? Yes. Would it solve anything? Not necessarily.
If I reacted angrily, he’ll know he got to me. He would know that what he said hurt, and he would have that satisfaction of getting a rise out of me. So, I sought to be the better of him, by not reacting to his harsh words.
But did he really mean them? I recalled the expression upon his face. Initially, I was so annoyed by the words and the humor he found at my expense, that I had almost forgotten about the confusion in his face. Did he truly not know the effect of what he said?
The more I thought about this, I slowly realized he did not say this out of spite, as I had previously believed. He said this out of ignorance. Ignorance of who I was, ignorance of the situation- he simply did not know.
I realized that he was not raised like me, by an immigration law professor like my mother. He did not understand the distinction between undocumented immigrants and immigrants- or perhaps didn’t care enough to find out.
Furthermore, this boy didn’t grow up with people questioning his right in his country. He didn’t grow up getting asked, “Where are you from?” And when he said New York, he was never getting asked again, “No, where you are actually from?” I realized that he was not educated on this subject, either from personal experience or learning about this in school. He was parroting what Trump had said, and most likely what his upbringing made him believe as well.
He simply didn’t understand what he was asking of me, because he didn’t know any better.
So I choose to separate his actions from who he was- to separate this senseless comment coming from a person who was ignorant rather than spiteful. I choose my battles wisely. Engaging in conflict over my American identity with a person who didn’t know what he was talking about was not worth it. I choose to forgive him. He does not know what it is like to be in an immigrant family living in America- especially during this time, when the discriminatory words of the president make all immigrants, regardless of their legal status, feel like they are not American.