As an Immigrant, I Feel Like America Just Broke Up With Me

Concepcion de Leon
Glamour
As an Immigrant, I Feel Like America Just Broke Up With Me
"I keep trying to see it as just another election, but I can't. The stakes were always too high; it was always too personal."

By Concepcion de Leon. Photos: Katie Friedman.

Let me try to explain. I moved to the U.S. when I was three years old, and have been in the American school system all my life. My dearest friends are here, as are my fondest (and my worst) memories.

I grew up thinking in English, believing in the promise of American dream—because in many ways, my father achieved it. He came here when he was 23 years old, right after I was born, and immediately started working six days a week (and sometimes seven) for his cousins, who immigrated before him.

But he's always had an entrepreneurial spirit, and when I was 9-years-old, he tried to find work at a private car service. The deal was that you’d drive for the company for a year, and then you owned the permit to the car and could work for yourself. He brought me along to supplement his broken English. Good thing he did, because it turned out he had to take a written test, and my dad cannot write in English. He knew all the answers—they were asking for simple directions, and my dad knew the city like the palm of his hand—but when the test administrator, a white woman, saw that I was writing down his answers, she said he could not apply because he wouldn’t be able to communicate with the passengers.

But he could, I remember insisting. I was merely writing what he was dictating. Still, she sent us away. My dad left silently, and in the car on the way back home, I cried. He tried to console me, using it as a teachable moment on the importance of pursuing my education, but for the first time I saw America reject my father. And I never forgot it.

Things worked out. Like a pioneer, he moved away from the comfort of the Latino enclave where his family lived and started a business in a neighborhood of Americans. He killed it. He bought his own home and made his way in this strange but generous country. My father didn't take jobs from anyone; he created them. He's paid taxes, offered affordable services, provided new ideas. He's raising his American children to be thoughtful contributors to our society, and he sings this country's praises to anyone who will listen. I thought, for a long time, that the day when my dad had been turned away was a fluke, not a representation of the true America.

That's why, earlier this year, I became a citizen. I wanted to formalize the relationship I already had with this country in my heart and most of all, I wanted to vote.

But in light of the election of Donald Trump, I feel the same sting of rejection that I felt many years ago. I feel like America and I had just made things official, and now this country is breaking up with me. I feel unwanted and paranoid of the people around me, wondering whether they were one of the more than 60 million people who cast their vote for the venomous orange man who encourages hate and incites violence against me, my family, and my friends. I keep trying to rationalize these results in my head and find a way to see it as just another election, but I can't. The stakes were always too high; it was always too personal. And I both envy and pity the privilege of anyone who thinks this tragedy is anything less than that.

What I wish people knew about immigrants like my dad—and me, to a degree—is that they are not rapists or criminals, they're fighters. The ones who make it had to fight tooth and nail to get here, and they've had to claw their way through just to survive. Yet they love America like no one else—and not an imagined America, but the America we have now, flaws and all. They don’t love it with entitlement, but with appreciation and respect for the privileges this country affords. To me, my father was an American long before he was naturalized in 2003, because he embodies all the ideals America claims to hold dear. Ideals it has betrayed this week.

On my way back from a week-long vacation in Colombia on Wednesday, after witnessing the stunning, dystopian results from afar, an American woman who was ahead of me on the security line asked if my friend and I were from the States. When we said we were, she responded, in tears, that we must be so sad. Another nearby woman joined the conversation, and we admitted we'd been crying all morning. It's heartbreaking, and I can't shake the feeling that even if the world does not end, the America we imagined has.