President Donald Trump’s racist tweet that four minority, liberal congresswomen should go back to where they came from was reprehensible and un-American.
Unfortunately, Trump’s despicable comments have struck a nerve with many people of color who live here. They have lived through this exact kind of cruel racism, and the sting never goes away.
Just ask Veronica Michael. She is 46 years old, lives in Fargo, and is a university administrator. She’s also African American. On many occasions in Fargo-Moorhead, she’s heard the same chilling words: “N-word, go back to Africa!”
She hears it when she’s biking, or shopping, or walking, or in a bar, or in a locker room. Often people yell it from a nearby car.
“It’s a punch in the gut,” Michael said. “It’s demoralizing. It makes me feel unsafe.”
So Michael is constantly living in fear. She always checks her surroundings and is careful who she is with.
“Saying go back to somewhere is not a solution,” she said. “It’s an attempt to silence me. It’s meant to dehumanize me.”
Michael says it’s especially hurtful when it comes from the president of the United States.
“I am not surprised by his comments, but I’m really sad that other leaders don’t speak out,” Michael said. “They don’t say anything. It’s hard to understand."
Thuy Le, 37, is an American citizen who lives in Moorhead. She owns and manages three nail salons in Fargo. Before she was born, her parents risked their lives and fled Vietnam in 1981. They were boat people. While growing up in the U.S., Le was often told to “Go back to Vietnam."
“It hurt,” Le said. “I was shocked and angry. They were telling me I don’t belong here. Well, I belong here as much as anyone else. I’ve actually never been to Vietnam."
Le calls Trump a racist and says his comments demonstrated racist intent.
“When I heard Trump’s comments, it brought back painful memories.” Le said. “It makes you feel like you’re not really an American. I don’t know what else I can do to be more of an American. I’m happy and thankful to be here. I don’t know anything else other than being an American.”
Raul Gomez, 43, was born and raised in Iowa. He now lives in Fargo, where he is a newspaper publisher.
“My whole life I’ve heard people tell me to go back where I came from and go back to Mexico,” Gomez said. “It comes from ignorant people."
Prairie Rose Seminole, 39, lives in Fargo. She’s an educator for the Lutheran Church and a Native American. The distressing insult she has heard thousands of times, and continues to hear, is simply, “Go back to the reservation!” She hears it in stores, restaurants, walking down the street, or at sporting events.
“What they’re saying is go home. You’re not wanted here. You’re not one of us,” Seminole said. “It’s hateful.”
Seminole says American Indians know which stores, gas stations, bars and restaurants they can go to, and which ones they need to avoid.
“It hurts,” Seminole said. “We’re the originals. We belong here. It still shocks you. You’re out enjoying your time and then it comes out of nowhere."
Seminole says she still believes America can become a place that’s safe and welcoming.
“Trump is fueling the fire of hatred,” Seminole said. “We’re tired of all this.”
Susan (not her real name) is an African American college student in her 20s who lives in Fargo. Virtually every day she’s told to go back to Africa, Mexico, the Middle East or India. It happens all over Fargo-Moorhead, she says.
“All I can do is walk away,” Susan said. “I can’t bear to look at the faces or listen to the words anymore … It has made me feel unwelcome and scared.”
Susan says she’s afraid if she revealed her identity she would suffer even more harassment.
“I feel like I’m at an even greater risk for injury or even unjust imprisonment,” she said. “I hear the whispers of people saying they’re going to call ICE when I’m in the grocery store or at a restaurant … The best I can do is continue to exist as a student, as a woman, and as an American, diverse and proud of it.”
The pain suffered by Veronica, Thuy, Raul, Prairie Rose and Susan is constant and inexcusable. They’re just as much patriotic Americans as anyone else. It’s time to treat them that way.