I wished for nothing more in those first months than to be able to go back home to Panama — but this was my home now. My mother was fighting alongside their fathers. Didn’t that mean we belonged here, too?
— Paola Salas Paredes, Washington, D.C.
I had just started a doctorate program in August 2001. Soon after 9/11, I was talking about the attacks with some of my fellow graduate students. We had a disagreement about what the American response should be. My response was clearly not bellicose enough — my classmates thought we should immediately obliterate the entire Middle East.
These same classmates told me I should “love it or leave it” with respect to the United States. I asked them where I should go — back to Texas (where I grew up)? They said no, where your parents came from. I asked them if I should go back to New York (where my parents were from). They said no, where my “people” are from (three of my four grandparents emigrated from Poland and Russia).
I’d experienced anti-Semitism growing up, but never anything like that. I had never been called un-American, and never been told that this wasn’t my home. I didn’t realize at the time that this was just the beginning, and that this “with us or against us” mentality would metastasize into what we are seeing today.
— Rachel Walker, Keller, Tex.
Growing up as an Asian-American
The worst experience was when I was a young child, playing on my driveway, and heard several thwacks and felt a cold sticky substance running down the back of my neck. I had been egged, and our house had been hit with vegetables. Someone shouted from a distance, “Go back to China, chink!”
— Kenneth Hung, New York City
I immigrated to the U.S. from the Philippines in the early 1970s with my parents, and we became U.S. citizens soon after our arrival. We lived in a very diverse neighborhood in the Near West Side of Chicago right next to the local university’s medical schools.
One unfortunate day, my mother took my 8-year-old brother and 12-year-old me to a neighborhood that was predominantly white. While my brother and I patiently waited in the car for my mom, a group of kids from that neighborhood came up to the car and started throwing stones at the car while yelling, “Go back home, you chinks!”