In the days following November 8th, a number of politicians, pundits, celebrities and satirists have reached out to the citizens of the fabled Land of Opportunity, offering words of hope and of reassurance, of rage and of defiance. And while many of them have said beautiful, poignant, patriotic things that have rung with me too, I also feel there is a necessity to address the nation’s visiting residents: not just immigrants, but the international student community too.
For many of you, it may not even have been your first full year in the United States when the symbolic gates closed and deemed you, on general principle, unwanted here. Whether it be for your religion, the color of your skin, your gender identity, or the way you choose to present yourself, the “Land of Opportunity” you worked and struggled so hard to enter suddenly labelled you – and me – as less than human. Suddenly, jokes about our names being kept on a registry were no longer five guffaws, but three chuckles and an awkward pause. But hey, at least now we can look forward to a possible sequel to Schindler’s List! Starring Matt Damon and Emma Stone as a pair of concerned Muslim friends from Syria.
Suddenly, jokes about us being deported before we could complete our four years stopped being jokes. They became a distinct possibility. Suddenly, we found we have no way of telling our parents and guardians that the sacrifices they made could all have been for nothing: they sent us away so we could pursue our dreams and ambitions somewhere where dreams and ambitions were supposed to be encouraged. We hoped to hear seven simple words: “You made it here in the USA!” and instead got “Go back to where you came from.”
Newsflash: The USA just became a reflection of “where we came from.”
We flew in to pursue our education free of political turmoil and a lack of progressive awareness, and instead learnt that the same conditions were the new fad diet in the USA. We put ourselves in our little bubbles at college and assumed it was representative of a larger, more tolerant community, only to discover that we were wrong. We hoped to avoid platforms of corruption and fearmongering, hate and xenophobia, except the same exact values exist here somewhere beneath the bubbling surface. It seems that we, as people, have room to grow not just in international waters and certainly not just in the United States. We have room to grow, to change, and to develop as people in the first place, worldwide.
And that was what we came here to do. We made tremendous sacrifices and left family, friends, and loved ones oceans behind with little to no way to reach us. It is an enormous and terrible privilege: one that we shouldn’t lose sight of even as our days within our bubbles become numbered and the reality of the New World beckons. We know full well that there were people amongst those we knew who deserved just as much as we did to come here, and yet were prevented because of barriers outside their control. We were lucky to cross them, to make it, and to let that luck run out now would be as much a disservice to them – those cheering us on – as it would be to ourselves.
Frustratingly, our voices and even those of immigrant status meant nothing; not because we could not vote, but because our realities simply were not weighed in the grand scheme of things. Frustratingly, our problems are being marginalized, our honest intentions vilified.
We are not here to steal your jobs.
We are not here to hurt your culture.
This isn’t even a cry for safe spaces, for basic human decency.
We are here to toss our own two cents in into a massive, swirling, diverse fountain of hopes and dreams and hopefully make those two cents back someday (No we’re not cheap; exchange rates just happen to be crazy). We are here because we were ambitious; because we worked day and night just for the slightest chance to expand our horizons, for the most massive opportunities of all. We are here to forge a path ahead for ourselves on a global level, with – not against – the brightest mind the United States, the Land of Opportunity, has to offer.
And so, as terrifying as this time might be, I like to remind myself that we paid an entry fee to stand with the best, the brightest, the most competitive of young minds in the most competitive of fields. And if ever there was a sign that maybe we do belong here, as one with our new friends as with our old alike, let that be it: We dared to dream of brighter horizons, and I’ll be damned if I stop daring.