My American story’s “shithole” roots 


I was born in Ogden, Utah, in the late 1970s, a brown-skinned girl with curly hair.

My dad and uncles had come to the United States on student visas, some of them years earlier from the country now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo — or what the president would label a “shithole country.”

They would go on to obtain their education, and contribute immensely to the United States economically, working in engineering and academia. One of my uncles has worked with the United Nations for over 25 years.

My dad first arrived to Germantown, Maryland, where he received his letter of acceptance to Weber State University’s electronic engineering program. Later, he moved to Utah with the intent to complete his education. I don’t imagine he planned to stay. Utah was a culturally homogeneous state, my father spoke very little English, and he had no other family members with him, and just one family friend.

But shortly after starting school he met my mother.

My mother is of Mexican, Irish, Scottish and English descent. My Mexican great-grandparents migrated to the American West from Chihuahua and Zacatecas, Mexico.

My family’s work developing railroads led them to states like Texas, Idaho and Colorado. But they eventually settled in Utah. My grandfather was one of nine children, and dropped out of school to work. He served in the Navy and the Air Force, retiring after 35 years from Utah’s Hill Air Force Base.

In the late 1950s, he married my fair-skinned, red-haired, blue-eyed grandmother. They settled down near Ogden. My grandmother says she does not remember people discriminating against her because she married a Mexican-American man. (Though she does recall seeing segregated fountains in Ogden as a child.) Rather, she says, she struggled with not being a Mormon in a Mormon town.

It was this woman’s daughter, my mother, who would fall in love with a man from the other side of the globe. She had just finished high school and hadn’t yet decided what she would do next. Despite the language barrier, my dad swept her off her feet. They were soon married and pregnant with me.

Unfortunately, cultural pressures and the struggle to raise a family while my dad was in school put stress on their marriage. They separated before I was 2 and later divorced.
As I reflect on my life, I now realize that the breaking of their marriage left me feeling culturally abandoned and unprotected. My mother eventually married a white man. He was from a family of devout Mormons from Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky. They were not exactly keen on their son marrying a Mexican woman with two black kids.

At 8 years old, I was molested by one of my new family members on my stepfather’s side. When it came out, my step-grandmother rationalized to me that what I was saying could not be true, because her relative “would have done it to a white child before they ever did it to a black one.” In that moment I understood what they meant when they said “black.”

Later, I realized that both my attacker and his defender were able to rationalize abusing me because of their lens of white privilege and who I appeared to be when they looked through it. It was then that I began to realize the power of telling my own story.

All of this history, my own and my family’s, influenced how I reacted to President Donald Trump’s “shithole” rhetoric. His comments are not surprising, but they are disgusting. He uses verbal abuse to promote his agenda and then cries “fake news” and “no trust,” when he’s called out. Or maybe he’s just trying to deflect attention from the growing evidence of his Russia scandal.

Regardless, this type of hateful, racist rhetoric adds fuel to an age-old fire — one that has caused damage to not only my own life and the lives of my family members, but America and countries across the globe.

What Trump said made me angry. But, as I was writing this on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I was reminded of that famous civil rights leader’s words: “I’ve decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

Diversity is a must to move forward.

Mine is one of many stories. The road for cultural diversity and inclusiveness has been long in our country, and I, like so many others, have felt the cost of racism. But Trump and racists like him haven’t won. Because my story continues, and so do the stories of my family, my community and all the families in this patchwork quilt of a country.

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