South Asian Moms React to a Future in Trump’s America
South Asian mothers share their concerns about parenting in a future with Donald Trump in the White House.
Many of us as parents are still recovering from the shock of the election of Donald Trump as America’s 45th president. Even while we grapple with the news, there are reports of hate-crime, racist remarks and ignorance that our community and others are facing.
For many South Asian moms in the US and around the world, waking up to the news of ‘President Donald Trump’ meant having to explain to our kids how the person who spoke so openly against minorities and various cultural groups with negative rhetoric, and someone who was considered the ‘bully’, won the hearts of half the country. So much so that he was elected to represent the people of the United States of America.
“I’ll admit I was completely gobsmacked, I let the euphoria of voting for a woman take over so completely that I didn’t allow myself to even consider the possibility that it would happen,” says Sonali Dev, an author and mother living in urban Chicago, IL. “Even when I went to bed at 1:40AM, I was hoping I’d wake up to a miracle. But that didn’t happen and it was just a day of tears. My fifteen -year -old daughter and I sat on the stairs of our home and wept. My seventeen-year-old son was moved enough to allow us a group hug.”
Sharmila Rao Thakkar, a former Illinois resident now living in Clinton’s winning state of NYC says watching the election unfold was sad and difficult.
“It’s been hard, I cannot hide the truth,” says Thakkar. “I’ve been a mess but to have experienced this through our kids’ eyes has been the most sad and difficult. What kind of statement are we making that you can have zero experience, be a bully, be mean, offensive and divisive and still win?”
Sharmila’s daughter, Anika, wrote a letter to Trump himself last year questioning his views on various religions and groups. As a result she and Anika were interviewed on Huffington Post Live. She says upon hearing the news, her daughter expressed fear for some of her friends but was more fired up than ever. Her son, who is just nine years old, had a very different reaction.
My son couldn’t get out of bed. He was scared to get on the bus and go to school where they are outnumbered by vocal Trump supporters. He asked, Are we going to move?
Thakkar says the anxiety is not just being felt at home but showing up at school in lunchrooms where kids on both sides are reacting to what they have heard in the campaign.
“At one point a bunch of first grade tables started shouting out Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!,” writes Thakkar in a Facebook post. “Then I went over to the third-graders where Shiv was sitting with a bunch of immigrant kids and kids whose parents they thought would have to leave the country… So sad and scary.” She went to on to say, “I did what I could to reassure, support, be positive and encouraging that we all need each other — and need to work together. But if that was any indication of what some people in our world think and feel, truly we have a lot of work to do yet. “
Sailaja Joshi, a mother of two from Massachusetts, says she’s still not sure how to react in the face of a renewed racial backlash in light of Trump’s presidency.
“I don’t know what I will do if someone spits on me while I’m with my children (which happened today), says Sailaja who is the CEO of Bharat Babies, one of the leading publishers in diverse literature in the South Asian community. “I’ve made it my mission to produce books that tell the stories of different cultures and histories that are now being actively hated against. I don’t know how to continue my company’s missions and beliefs without compromising my family’s safety. While we are routed in Massachusetts and our state is typically ‘blue’, today I was glared at and spat on by a man in a ‘Make America Great Again” hat. All I know is I can tell my children that in the words of Michelle Obama, that, ‘When they go low, we go high.’ “
Sonali Dev also says it was important for her to highlight the positive aspect of but also the lessons in Trump’s victory.
“This is what I told my teens: It’s a democracy and our country is divided. Hilary won the popular vote, so there’s still more people who hold our values than that don’t. But the other side of it is that a large part of our country is hurting economically. People have lost faith in the system and this candidate used their anger and fanned it into hate toward the people who are not responsible. There will always be differences between liberal and conservative ideals in a democracy, but in this case, people chose to ignore the ugliness spewed by him to stand by their values.”
We talked about being empathetic but remembering your privilege and using it to change things. I reminded them that success is the currency that will give you voice, so you have to work even harder so you can change things.
Some mothers like Deepika Sandhu, a California resident, shared emotional messages like this one about feeling now how she felt after 9-11.
Mom of two, Anuja Silva, who lives in Albany, NY, says while she is hopeful, Trump’s very vocal disdain for minorities makes it very hard as a parent.
“South Asians and non-white Americans and immigrants are still seen as second class citizens in the United States by Trump so it is challenging to make kids understand,” says DeSilva. “It will be challenging to teach our kids to embrace and celebrate our differences. Also I worry about how to keep our kids’ connections to our South Asian homelands alive without them being fearful of being anti-American.”
Sonali Dev goes one step further and says she feels completely alienated by the Trump presidency.
“Trump has actually made some (to me cringe worthy) attempts at courting the South Asian (unfortunately only Hindu) community. But the tragedy is that he’s used islamophobia as a conduit to us. I think this is horribly damaging. A general atmosphere of racial intolerance and blame mongering can never do any immigrant community any good. The idea that some people are lapping up this divisive rhetoric is incomprehensible to me.”
She adds cultural stigma in the nation will only increase.
“His legacy has been to categorize entire cultures as rapists and terrorists,” says Sonali. “Of course it will intensify cultural stigma. All of us non-caucasians, in terms of appearance are often indecipherable from one another. Do you think someone who sees us as lesser or threatening because of the color of our skin is taking the time to stop and classify us and then making a rational decision about how to treat us?”
Influential South Asian organizations like South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT), are urging US President-elect Donald Trump to immediately renounce the hateful rhetoric being felt by some South Asian families.
“We call on President-Elect Trump to immediately renounce the hate-filled rhetoric used throughout his campaign and commit to safeguarding the rights and freedoms of all Americans, including the 4.3 million South Asians living in the U.S.” reads a press release on their site. “The President-Elect must acknowledge the steady narrative of hate and fear used during his campaign has served as a rallying cry for violence and oppression against our communities,” stated Suman Raghunathan, Executive Director of SAALT, in the press release.
“Yes absolutely he should address it,” says Thakkar. “He needs to distance himself from those actions, including the KKK celebration.”
For many South Asian moms in intercultural marriages, the fear of a cultural backlash is an even bigger concern. Naya Weber, a mom of two in Texas, worries about her children.
“I am fearful because I look different,” says Weber. “ While I live in a fairly liberal city, I am aware that there are pockets of people who would hate me based on how I look. My children look more caucasian, but I am concerned about what they will hear other children say. He (Trump) seems to enjoy painting different cultures with a broad brush and relying heavily on stereotypes and tapping into people’s racist tendencies. By doing this, our culture will be far less accepting, more likely to start a physical fight.
Weber adds that under Obama, the presidency grew to be more about inclusion with events at the White House that celebrated cultures, including the South Asian culture. In 2009, President Obama was the first President to light the Diya. But she fears celebrations like these this may end under Trump.
“Based on what I’ve seen him say so far about Muslims and women during his campaign, I don’t think it would be a positive impact,” says Weber. “President Obama was the first president to set up Diwali celebrations at the White House. Sadly, I do not foresee that happening again under a Trump presidency.”
Do these South Asian moms think moving is the solution? Even if their kids have asked them the question, they all agree moving won’t solve the issue.
“I’ve heard people discuss moving and I actually don’t think of it as a solution at all,” says Dev.
Truth be told, I don’t believe there’s a single western country that’s rid itself of racism entirely yet (colonization and slavery coded it into our societies pretty deep) and I don’t see a country in the world that has completely grown past misogyny and sexism. I think everyone’s in various stages of their journeys to get past it. America, if anything, was starting to make some good progress and I’m hoping this is one giant surge of pushback that we’ll work past.
“We live in Illinois and it voted blue. Plus, we put a Democrat woman in the senate, so not all Illinois election news was bad. I’m trying to manage my panic and hoping these four years aren’t terribly disastrous. We’ll have to wait and see.”
“I have not considered moving as America is home,” says DeSilva. “Glad to live in New York in a multi cultural community. We want to keep growing our diverse circle of friends and immersing ourselves in the true melting pot that America is.”
Still these moms are empowered. They’re hopeful and they hope to give their the tools to speak up and learn from the teachable moments that may cross their paths in the near future.
“Today I took a moment and that decided that each morning, my 3-year-old daughter and my one-year-old son and I will do positive affirmations,” says Sailaja Joshi. “We said together, ‘I am strong, I am powerful, I am loved!’. I hope to make this a tradition and to give each of them the strength to go forward each day. ‘
“Hope is not lost, we can’t just rest,” says Sharmila Rao Thakkar. “I think it’s fired up our kids even more to be vocal and not sit back.”
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