As I write this, I’m sitting at a cafe across the table from a white male who keeps glancing in my direction. I’m not sure if he’s looking at me or something behind me. Is it because of the color of my skin and if so what’s he thinking? Or maybe he’s just looking at something behind me and I’m being foolish. I don’t know, but it does bother me slightly. I’ll be back in my beloved Pakistan very soon so I easily brush it off. For some of my friends though, this is something they deal with on and off – maybe now more so than ever.
I know what you’re probably thinking. Who cares what a Pakistani has to say about Trump? Thing is, everyone has an opinion when it comes to America. Marketed as the champion of democracy, the entire world was expecting it to elect its first female president and finally move past what many had called a joke gone on too long. But that didn’t happen. Donald Trump emerged as the victor to the bewilderment and bemusement of a lot of people as it was in stark contrast to what the American media made us believe; rightly so, it sent waves of discomfort across the globe because in Trump we saw everything that was wrong with America. So I hope you’ll bear with me for one more narrative amongst the plethora of others you may have already read or seen in your social media feeds.
I was in San Francisco waiting for my Uber and briefly glanced at the results as they were coming in.
Trump was in the lead but not by a lot. It was pretty surprising because the media had made it seem as if Hillary would win by a large margin. Throughout the Uber ride, I was accompanied by two strangers, both very uncomfortable and fairly silent as they too checked the results on their phones. I arrive at a restaurant where I’m meeting my friends. We uncomfortably make our way through dinner, constantly checking our phones for updates. Then we see the final result. My friends, who were American, weren’t pleased, to say the least.
Trump wouldn’t be my president. He wouldn’t represent me. Regardless of who the US president is, they wouldn’t have a favorable policy towards Pakistan, it’s not like Obama did either.
But then why was I so flustered?
So as I thought about it more, it started making some sense. Born and raised in Lahore, Pakistan, my relationship with the US started in 2008 when I moved to Madison, Wisconsin for college. That was the same year America elected its first black president, a candidate who ran his entire election campaign on the promise of hope. For someone coming from Pakistan at that time, it was overwhelming to see so many many people rush to the streets in jubilation, overtaken by euphoria for ushering in a change they voted for; a large part of me was jealous and yearned for something similar in Pakistan. This was just my introduction to America. Over the years, I met some of the best people I’ve come to know from different walks of life, learned the meaning of friendship, of love, of loss, and what I think it means to be a citizen of this world. Pakistan was and will always be a part of who I am. But through my connection with everyone I met in America, it’s as if for a moment, America became a part of me too.
Because my connection to America was through my friends, their unhappiness in wake of the election unsettled me. As grief started overtaking them, it started overtaking me. Many took to Facebook and Twitter to express their frustration to what had happened but what concerned me most was what was yet to come and many of them would have to live with.
We all have different communities that we are a part of. By no means am I the best Muslim but being Muslim is part of my identity; it’s something that happens to most us by default growing up in Pakistan. And being a ‘resident alien’ in America made it an even bigger part of me. As such, during my time in America, I started considering myself to be a part of the Muslim community too. Maybe that’s why hearing these stories of Muslims being attacked in wake of the election unsettled me more than it should. It felt like ‘my people’ were being attacked, the same way I’d feel when something unfortunate happened in Pakistan.
“I couldn’t do anything at work. I was just so mad that I couldn’t focus. I kept my head down, tried to do my work, but then just took my things and left the office. There’s no point in me even showing my frustration. I’m just worried about my mom and sisters,” one of my friends tells me.
As Trump supporters in America rejoice, there is a sense of fear permeating over many people close to me because they are either people of color, Muslim, women or members of a minority community of America. It’s not a fun time to be in America and I worry that it’s only going to get worse for my friends.
Donald Trump may be many things but for a lot of people, including myself, he will be a bully, a racist, a bigot and the manifestation of the things that are wrong with America.
And I guess that’s the crux of my dismay, because for the next four years at least, America will be synonymous with Donald Trump in Pakistan and the rest of the world. Unfortunately, people in Pakistan won’t know about my American friend whose research in earth and environmental science could help us understand and possibly improve the horrendous smog situation in Lahore. Or my Afghani immigrant friend whose family had to flee their home because of the hostile situation and now works long hours day in and day out to support himself and his widowed mother. Or about the couple from LaCrosse, Wisconsin who adopted me and my Nigerian roommate while we were in college as their grandchildren because they simply fell in love with us. Or the countless other Americans who when viewed from a certain lens aren’t so different from Pakistanis.
What upsets me more is that in a time of divisions, Trump’s presidency will only strengthen the boundaries that exist between us all and make everyone turn inwards.
But I’ll still go on believing that love will always trump hate. I hope you will too.