In 1967, my sixth-grade class was beginning a unit on immigration. Our teacher said, “All of us here in this room, for example, have ancestors who came from Europe.”

Though I was a shy child, I couldn’t let this one pass. I raised my hand. “My grandfather was born in Brazil.”

I was so proud. But I wonder if that little girl would be so eager to talk about her heritage when the president of the United States is so eager to tear people down for theirs.

This past weekend, the president targeted four Democratic congresswoman of color. In a tweet, he told them to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.”

Where do I start? This diatribe is cruel, inaccurate and hypocritical. Worst of all, it is racist.

Three of the congresswomen — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York; Ayanna Pressley, of Massachusetts; and Rashida Tlaib, of Michigan — were born in the U.S. The fourth, Ilhan Omar, of Minnesota, is a native of Somalia. Of course, she is a U.S. citizen. She wouldn’t be able to serve in Congress if she wasn’t.

President Donald Trump’s mother was born in Scotland. His paternal grandparents emigrated from Germany. One of his ex-wives and his present wife are immigrants.

I believe the president is a racist. This is just the latest example. Moreover, I continue to believe that at least some within his base are willing to overlook many of his other faults because he is willing to disparage — and worse — people of color.

Farmers who accept tariffs that hurt them, evangelicals who overlook Trump’s alleged behavior toward and disgusting comments about women, high school graduates who don’t cringe at a president who thinks there were airports during the Revolutionary War — they fear a multicultural nation.

Trump is trailing several Democratic presidential candidates in the polls at the moment. So he’s tossing out racist invective to get his base riled up.

He’s spewing hatred into the atmosphere and dividing the country.

I recently read a young adult novel, “The Night Diary,” by Veera Hiranandani, and saw a movie, “Viceroy’s House,” both of which dealt with the partition of India in 1947. As the British ended their rule of the country, it was divided into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. Terrible violence broke out. People died. Lives were ruined. Both the book and the movie made the point that until the partition, Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs could be friends and colleagues. Nisha, the protagonist in “The Night Diary,” is the child of a Hindu father and a Muslim mother.

It is only when people started being overtly identified as “the other” that they started fearing, hating and lashing out at one another.

Most Americans have always embraced the idea of a melting pot, where immigrants add their cultures, languages and histories to the stew. The resulting dish is labeled American, but it is richer, spicier, stronger and more interesting because of the varied ingredients.

My 1967 classroom might have been a microcosm for the kind of America the president and his base want. We were all descended from Europeans (my great-grandparents had emigrated to Brazil from Portugal), and led by a woman with a solid Scots-Irish name. There were perhaps a few too many southern Europeans in the mix (the president has indicated he prefers Norwegian immigrants) but we were all white, and Christian.

Though I loved my elementary school, I have to say, “How boring was that?”

It’s hard for me to understand people who don’t embrace diversity. I was raised to be proud of my heritage, and took an interest in the ancestry of my friends, whose grandparents were also immigrants — from Quebec, Ukraine, Italy, Ireland, Russia. Americans are more interested in their roots than ever before, with millions sending off their DNA to be analyzed.

Most Americans also understand that criticizing our country is a civic duty. When we perceive wrong, we must speak up. That’s how democracy thrives.

Moreover, many of the ideas that progressive Democrats such as these four congresswomen espouse are appealing to a wide swath of Americans. People are very concerned about their health care. The need to act on climate change is becoming clearer even to the naysayers, because they are being personally affected by extreme weather.

The president was not speaking for the majority of Americans with this tweet. Our country does not look like my sixth-grade classroom. It is Hispanic, and African-American and white; Muslim and Christian and Jewish; gay and straight and a thousand more adjectives.

United we stand; divided we fall.  What exactly does the president want us to do?

 

Liz Soares welcomes email at [email protected].


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