If there is one thing I like to avoid, it's bringing my family and their experiences into the public eye -- politics can get nasty and my gut instinct is to protect them. I am also a white woman from a family of color who is conscious of my privilege...privileges many members of my family do not receive. In short, it is not okay to co-opt their experiences and use them to credential myself.
President Trump's Twitter attacks on four Congresswomen this week stirred up a lot of memories involving my father and I'd like to share one that had a profound impact on how I've come to understand racism in our country and what motivates me as a legislator.
I remember calling my mom one weekend in college, and she was very upset. Earlier in the day, my dad and she had been shopping at the swap meet in my hometown, and a white nationalist had attacked him.
The whole incident started when an older man accused my dad of taking his parking spot. He yelled that he was a veteran who had fought "your kind in Vietnam," and that my dad should “go back to where he came from”.
My dad, an officer in the US Navy, was the first person in his family born in America, and his older brother, my uncle Fernando, served in the US Navy in Vietnam. My dad doesn't suffer fools and I'm sure he said something back to the racist old man.
A few minutes later, the old man brought over his son who had a tattoo of a swastika, and then the young man punched my dad in the face.
This is just one incident that I remember off the top of my head where my dad was specifically told to go back to where he came from. I'm sure there are many many more, though my dad is never someone to dwell or look back. As a Filipino, he gets both Asian and Latinx slurs, because his race is not easily identifiable or understood as panethnic.
The irony is that his white-presenting, adopted daughter (me) was not born in the US. I've never once had my American citizenship challenged. This is a textbook example of white privilege and how "go back" language is undoubtedly racist.
President Trump is racist. He has been a racist for years: when he and his father refused to rent apartments to African Americans and other minorities in the 1970s; when he took out a full page ad against the --now exonerated-- Central Park 5; when he accused Barack Obama of forging his birth records; his facilitation and creation of internment camps across the US border. His list of atrocious behavior and rhetoric goes on and on.
As a white woman who represents one of the country's most ethnically diverse legislative districts and one noted for its robust immigrant communities, I have a unique responsibility. These acts must be called out as racist, regardless of if they were committed by the president or by a neighbor. I introduced a bill to fight hate crimes this session; though it didn't pass, I will introduce it again next session because, obviously, we have a long way to go.
So, to my friends and neighbors in District 39 and across the country: This is where we are from. This is our country. We built it. And together we will continue to build a more just, more equitable, more respectful world.
Onward and upward,