“Virtually homeless” in a globally conservative world

BY SIDDHI SHAH '19

I am a French and an English double major, but I read more pieces about international relations and politics than literature. Why? Because I’m an international student of color and for me, it’s not only an interest in current events but a fear of survival that compels me to stay educated.

With recent political developments, I feel my very existence is threatened and unwanted. Between Trump’s travel ban on Muslims, the burning of mosques and synagogues and Europe’s extreme right-wing movements, the “foreign western havens,” idyllic places of refuge for immigrants, in which I had been raised to believe are rapidly disappearing.

I was born in India, a developing country slowly trying to recover from its colonial wounds. My parents felt that moving to the economically excelling United Arab Emirates would be the best shot for my siblings and I to have a chance at a better life — a chance perhaps that they never had. However, the one small yet significant detail that escaped their attention was that the inherently racist government would always keep me from being a citizen of the country. This means that even though the Emirati culture and values have become a part of my own culture and values, even though I can read Arabic like the back of my hand and even though Dubai is my home, I will never be able to call it my country on paper. I will always be viewed as a foreigner to Indians who feel that I purposely abandoned the country as an infant and, paradoxically, will always be viewed as a stranger to UAE as someone who has foreign blood running through their veins.

When I came to the sudden realization that I had been giving all I had to a country that would always view me as an outsider, I thought of escaping to the “western havens” I had heard about all my life. Those havens that were brimming with economic richness were open and accepting, and — most importantly — were welcoming melting pots for the virtually homeless like me. So I came to America, the land of dreamers and second chances. I thought I was finally starting to be accepted and celebrated for exactly who I was until Nov. 8, 2016. Since this recent election, something has changed, and more importantly, I have changed. Instead of feeling comforted by the compassion of those who protest on my behalf, I can’t help but focus on the murders of people like me; people murdered for being exactly the same way we are, in exactly the shade of brown. When my friends and professors remind me of political revolutions in history that people survived, instead of focusing on the pattern of change and survival, I can’t help but focus on those people of color, people like me, who didn’t survive that history.

I hear over and over that if I continue to live in fear, the terrorists — in this case, those people in the White House — win. But how do I continue when political oppression seeps into every decision I make? Like hundreds of Mount Holyoke students, I’ve dreamt about going to study abroad since the moment I got my acceptance letter, but despite being accepted into an incredible study abroad program in France for the fall of 2017. Now, going to France seems like an idealistic dream. In reality, another Trump, presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, awaits to shut another door in my face.

Like Trump, Le Pen adopts a nation-first ideology. She imagines a France only for French people (read: white people whose families have been in France for two generations). Countries like these not only reject immigrants and marginalized groups of people on paper, but also those who are already legally in the country through daily violence and micro aggressions. Under Trump’s administration, an increasing number of people of color are becoming targets of hate crimes and murder. Recently, two Indian men were shot, one fatally. Their crime? They weren’t white. In France, a young black man was recently beaten and raped by police officials, sparking a series of riots. His crime? He wasn’t white. In Germany, Al Jazeera reports that, on average, refugees are attacked 10 times a day. Their crime? Asking for help in a white country while not being white. I am continuously devastated and heartbroken when I read about brutal responses that can be ignited merely by the color of someone’s skin. Responses that could be thrown at me because of the color of my skin. It’s been a long time since I have been shocked by these incidents because I have realized that in the eyes of many people, all I am is the color of my skin.

When you escape an unstable life and an unstable developing country, you em- bark on a lifelong voyage. Due to my status as an immigrant who is also a person of color, there is no country I can proudly say has my back. As Ijeoma Umebinyuo puts it, I will always be “too foreign for home, too foreign for here, never enough for both.”

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