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Let's Engage the Silent Majority

By Jin Park, Contributing Writer

I didn’t expect Donald Trump to be elected President of the United States. I hoped and prayed he would lose. Throughout the election cycle, I tried to remain detached from the endless fear and bigotry that seemed to spew out of the Trump political machine. For me, my parents, and my community, this election was too personal.

I am an undocumented immigrant, one of the many directly under threat in Donald Trump’s plan to deport all 11.5 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. In addition, I am a visa-overstayer—one of about 4.6 million that Trump has said he would prioritize in his deportation campaign. I’m terrified of my place in this country and am crippled by the seeming inevitability of the sweeping actions on immigration Trump has promised to the American people. He says he will cancel DACA, cancel funding to sanctuary cities, and deport me, my parents, and members of my community. But in the face of uncertainty and overwhelming despondency, I refuse to be silenced.

President-elect Trump directly threatens the physical and emotional wellbeing of me and all other undocumented people living in the US. His presidency is built on a fundamental misunderstanding of the immigration system, on the notion that the nation’s supposed vulnerability is the fault of undocumented immigrants, Muslims, and Latinos.

I don’t write to concede defeat in the face of bigotry—our community will not be silent as our families are separated and our livelihoods dismantled. Neither do I write to ask for Donald Trump’s pity or compassion when it comes to immigration. Rather, I write to make a case for how to move forward under President Trump. This is a call for action directed towards undocumented people, progressives, allies, and anyone else connected to our movement. I speak to my fellow undocumented Americans directly, but my message is for everyone:

Let us begin a dialogue with those who seek to suppress and deport us. I ask that we take on the difficult task of embracing those who wish to upend the lives we’ve built in this country. For many who celebrate Trump’s victory, this election is a reassertion of their belief that undocumented immigrants do not deserve a place in this country. Throughout the course of the election and the inflammatory rhetoric, these individuals have accepted these views as truth. It is counterproductive (and impossible) to insulate ourselves from these voices, especially now that their views have been legitimized by the President-elect himself. We must engage.

As undocumented immigrants, we don’t choose to be political; our lives are by definition political. Our immigration status is inextricably tied up in our identity, so that we cannot exist without drawing attention to the systems that define us, the systems on which this world—our world, the world we share with all those around us—is built. Just by living and breathing in America, we create pressure, we force reexamination, and therefore we are seen as a threat. Perhaps the hardest part of being undocumented is understanding that our futures depend on the worldviews and political leanings of other people. What are we to do when the abstract political rhetoric of others so dramatically shapes the reality of our lives, our very existence in this country?

We must begin by recognizing that now is not the time for comfortable conversation. Donald Trump has made immigration a toxic political flash point, rendering it near impossible to have a true and honest conversation about the issue. Nevertheless, we must face head-on the bigotry, the damaging language about our family members and neighbors, the xenophobia, and the proposals to build the wall. The answer is not to lash out in indignation or to make sweeping statements about the moral failures of others—Trump’s supporters use this as fuel to perpetuate their polluted narrative of the job-stealing, criminal immigrant. Instead, we must meet these sentiments with as much openness and respect as we can muster.

Let’s make this conversation our own again. Let’s make it about our families, their endurance, and their sacrifices. Let’s make it about our dreams, our hopes, and our aspirations—the real reasons we came to the United States. We must engage these voices and meet them where they are: Meet inaccuracy with truth, meet intolerance and prejudice with our lived experiences.

In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton asked us to “look to the future.” She said that “we owe [Donald Trump] an open mind and a chance to lead.” Keeping an open mind means something different for each of us. For me, it means not discounting the outcome of this election as the simple result of racism and xenophobia run wild. I will not turn away in disgust. Fear alone did not elect Donald Trump; uncomplicated ignorance cannot explain his success. I will engage with his electorate. I will seek to promote open, honest, compassionate conversation. We must pursue reciprocity—even if there seems to be no room for anything but intolerance. We must believe mutual understanding can be reached. This is not idealistic—it is the only way forward under the leadership of a President that may govern based on a platform of intolerance.

In his acceptance speech for the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize, Martin Luther King Jr. argued that “unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality…[that] right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.” What I’m asking for involves incredibly difficult conversations with people who don’t believe we have a place in this country. But we owe it to ourselves, to our families, and to our communities to elevate immigration and make it a more accessible conversation for everyone. Eventually, yes, love will trump hate. But only if we meet hatred—persistently, faithfully—with unarmed truth and relentless compassion.

Jin Park ‘18 is a Molecular and Cellular Biology concentrator living in Cabot House.

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