Anu Roy-Chaudhury: The very un-American American

Wednesday, September 21, 2016 - 6:09pm

A few weeks ago, I was in an Uber with a driver named Nick. He happened to be from Greece, but immigrated to Michigan with his family when he was a teenager. I brought up my interest in travelling there, and we talked about some of the best sites in the country, the rich culture and the fluctuating debt crisis. I said how amazing it would have been to live there, and he nodded, saying it was. But what struck me was when he then went on to say how America had done more for him and his family than Greece ever could. As we continued to talk, I soon realized his appreciation for this country outweighed my own. Nick’s sentiments, similar to many other foreign-born Americans, are at odds with many of the things Donald Trump has to say about immigrants in the United States.

Last week, Mr. Trump announced that President Barack Obama was, in fact, born in the United States. The Trump team blamed Hillary Clinton for the birtherism theories, accusing her 2008 campaign of starting the birther movement. However, history is not on Mr. Trump’s side. The Los Angeles Times traced the nominee’s opinion on Obama’s birthplace throughout the years, and up until his announcement on Sept. 16, Trump was anything but supportive of the president. Even after announcing his bid for the presidency in 2015, Donald Trump remained doubtful of Obama’s birthplace. The resurfacing of this issue, possibly another media ploy or (successful) attempt to cast the spotlight on himself, highlights a deeper problem: Trump’s immigrant discourse is dangerous to what the United States stands for. Within the past year, Trump has managed to alienate immigrant groups from all over the world. Now, Mr. Trump has again raised concerns regarding identity and origin and their collective place in American society. This continued disregard and severe lack of empathy for immigrant groups makes him less American than he once perceived our president to be.   

It has been said time and again that America is, at its core, a nation of immigrants. Our country’s motto, “E pluribus unum,” or “out of many, one,” highlights the nation’s diverse makeup. Trump’s words have continuously worked against this centuries-old principle, disrespecting it instead of praising it. The irony of this lies in Trump’s appeal. His campaign has run on an “America First” mentality in an attempt to make him appear more patriotic. Well, “America First” includes the 42.4 million foreign-born immigrants who call this country home. Trump’s vision of “Make America Great Again” is a skewed one. His harmful rhetoric against immigrant populations like his “Build a Wall” slogan and plan to ban Muslims from entering the country is creating an outdated insider vs. outsider mentality that has no place in today’s globalized society. This hostile conversation between natural-born Americans and foreign-born Americans is destructive to the very ideals the country holds itself to. The nominee’s all-American image is disqualified by his refusal to see what makes America, America: its diverse population.

Statistically, immigrants in the United States, along with their U.S.-born children, equate to almost 26 percent of the population. As the daughter of two Indian immigrants, I’m part of that statistic, as are many other University of Michigan students. In a country with a substantial foreign population, Trump’s rhetoric is working against him. If Mr. Trump wants his campaign to be signified by strong patriotism, then estranging American immigrants is not the way to go. Immigrants, more often than not, embody the virtues that make the United States great: hard work, humility and a belief in America’s ideals. They come here to start over, to begin, to learn. America is opportunity, it’s hope, but for many of us, it’s just ordinary. I can admit that I take being an American for granted. But for immigrants living here, every day is a visible difference between where they came from and where they are now. This kind of perspective develops a great sense of gratitude, leading many immigrants to have a uniquely deeper appreciation for all that the United States has given them.

Donald Trump hasn’t outright insulted Greek immigrants like Nick the Uber driver, or Indian immigrants like my parents, but his anti-immigration rhetoric can make all ethnicities feel unwelcome in their own country — their own home. It’s important to note that Trump doesn’t often make the distinction in his comments between illegal immigrants who bring violence and crime to the United States and immigrants like my parents: educated, skillful and committed to giving their very best for their children and their adopted country.

Immigrants like the Khan family, whose roots are in Pakistan, are originally from another country but have lived a version of the “American Dream.” Trump’s words have grouped together all immigrants by continuously insulting them, showing a concerted effort to alienate those whose birthplace may be different, skin color may be darker or first language may not be English. In many cases, this simply means he is alienating those who tend to be the most appreciative of America. He has refueled the stigma surrounding immigrants and perpetuated the idea of a less tolerant America. The fact that their appreciation is being returned with racism and bigotry by a presidential candidate tears away at what actually makes America great: people who have come here seeking opportunity and who have lived it out.

The United States is a country of diversity, opportunity, freedom, hope and all those other adjectives that great leaders and great writers have continuously used to describe this singularly unique America. These are the ideals we hold ourselves to: accepting other cultures and religions, promoting tolerance and acceptance and realizing the vast contributions those with different backgrounds can bring to the table. Unfortunately, not all of us are promoting those words on the face of our currency, E pluribus unum. Trump is on a mission to “Make America Great Again,” but his own belittling words and blunt ignorance seem to be what make him all the less American.

Anu Roy-Chaudhury can be reached at anuroy@umich.edu