Americans share what it feels like to be told: ‘Go back to where they came from’
Over the weekend, President Donald Trump attacked a group of progressive Democratic congresswomen by sarcastically suggesting that “they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.”
To ‘go back where you came from’ is a slur that’s been used against people of color in America — and elsewhere — for decades.
CNN asked to share their experiences. Here are 8 of those stories, sent in via Twitter and WhatsApp, in their unedited forms:
Sauleh Siddiqui, 35
Washington DC resident
I’m a professor of Civil Engineering and Applied Mathematics and Statistics at Johns Hopkins University and live in Washington DC. I grew up in Pakistan, and came to the US because of college. I am now a naturalized citizen. Last year, I was on a research trip to Berlin with some American colleagues.
I was talking to my European colleagues about how the food and coffee in Europe is so much better than the United States. One of my American colleagues got a bit annoyed at this, and interrupted me and said that I can go back to my country if I don’t like America and that no one forces me to live in the US. I was already a US citizen by then. In college, a professor of international relations once asked me in class where I was from. Once I told him, he said that I should go back to Pakistan once I am done studying so I can fix my country. He said it was a global problem that people like me didn’t go back to fix their own countries
Daniela Perez, 21
I’m a Colombian, naturalized American citizen and I’m a Journalism and Political Science Major at the University of Miami.
I live in Miami which is generally diverse. However, because of my progressive and left leaning ideas, I’ve often been told to go back to where I came from and when I was in high school an anonymous twitter said “Daniela Perez is the reason we need to build a wall” despite being in a “diverse” city and being an American citizen. I’ve even been told this by other Latinx people who were born here because they’ve garnered the language of white radicalism because it gives them a sense of comfort for some reason.
Being told to go back to my country reminds you of how confused you feel about your pertinence in either country. Despite being an “American”, you surely don’t feel like it and as I’ve grown older, I feel confused about my belonging. Because I’m not either and when I felt more American, I was rejected from it. And as someone who tends to be emotional, I feel for my family who made the effort to come here for a better future just to realize that it’s not as great. And that we won’t belong like they told us we would.
I’m passionate about American politics but I’m terrified about being belittled for my background. Especially by the President of the United States
Priscilla A. Gonzalez, 34
I have been told to go back to Mexico. Well, this has happened to me throughout my entire life. I am 34 years old. I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley. I now reside in Corpus Christi, Texas. The last time was in February of this year. I was at a stoplight driving to Louisiana to see my brother. Apparently, a lady was upset because I cut her off (this was not intentional) and yelled at me when we met at the stoplight “Go back to Mexico and called me a Libtard.” I was with my father at the time. I do believe that this woman was upset because I have Beto and Eric Holguin bumper stickers on my car. She had MAGA 2020 stickers.
When I was younger, I did not fully understand, so my reaction was just confused. When I was with my dad, my immediate response was anger, and when my dad noticed I was about to say something back, he told me: “There are some bad and ignorant people in the world, you don’t have to respond to them. Be a better person.”
Jasmine Gaitano, 32
Lives in Japan
Trump’s tweet was a mixture of anger, frustration, and resentment because the leader of our country (and my husband’s commander-in-chief) is single handedly turning back the clock on America’s sociocultural progress and emboldening his base to perpetuate their tribalistic and xenophobic behaviors and it frightens me because this road will take us to an even darker place.
I was born in the Philippines but immigrated to the United States when I was 4 and got my citizenship in the 3rd grade. We settled in Plano, TX when I was in Kindergarten. So it was tough growing up as a minority in a predominately white and affluent suburb. My husband and I are currently stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and we’ll be here until 2021. I’m a teacher and have been teaching almost a year. I got “Go back to China” regularly. One instance where I actually broke down crying was during summer school. This boy was upset that I wasn’t allowing or accepting his advances and he basically told me to go back to China. I laughed a bit bc I was somewhat used to it and said I wasn’t Chinese. He replied with, “Well all of you look the same and have slanted eyes.” I was 13 or 14 at the time.
Nida Allam, 25,
Durham, North Carolina, resident
I was born in Canada my parents are Indian and Pakistani and I am a Muslim woman who wears the headscarf. I’m elected to the North Carolina Democratic Party. I constantly receive messages being told to go back to “the desert” or “olly akbar land” (their attempt at saying allahuakbar). When I was first elected to be an officer of the party a white supremacist wrote an entire article about how I’m corrupting the US.
I live in Durham, NC. When I get messages I genuinely feel concerned not for my safety per se but how as a nation we have failed. Because this type of hatred isn’t something you’re born with its taught, and it’s taught through a lack of information. These people may just be behind a keyboard right now but I fear in this political climate they will feel emboldened to act on their hatred and hurt innocent people.
I also feel the urge myself to become more politically active and to work for a must just and accepting society.
Miranda Cooper, 42
I never thought that I would hear a sitting US President say something so unAmerican. I thought we were the land of opportunity and a welcoming nation… It made me feel like all of the sacrifices that my grandfather went through, after spendings years as a political prisoner in Cuba, to come to this country and give his children a better life was undone in that stupid hate filled tweet. It was scary because it made me feel like no one is safe.
On two occasions I’ve felt quite out of place despite the fact that I was born here. My family came to the US from Cuba in the 60’s and 70’s. I once worked at an insurance agency in Miami where the owner and manager were non-Hispanic. Once, the manager caught a coworker and I speaking Spanish in private and he started throwing candy from a nearby candy bowl and shouting at me to stop speaking Spanish. The second time was when I got engaged, my now husband’s ex-girlfriend told me to “drive back to Cuba” Yes, DRIVE back to the Island of Cuba.
In the first situation, I felt as if he thought I was less than him because I’m Hispanic. I quit that job immediately and filed a Equal Employment Opportunity complaint against the agency. The second time I recognize that it came from a place of jealousy and anger, so it didn’t hurt as bad. It did make me realize that whether I was born here or not, the fact that I had a Hispanic last name and spoke Spanish, there were still going to be people who viewed me as being less than, whether it be less of a human, less worthy of respect, less intelligent, etc than they are.
In the first instance, even though I filed a complaint, no one (other employees) stood up and opposed his actions. All of the Hispanic coworkers were upset that the manager implemented this “no speaking Spanish” rule even during our private conversations during lunch, restroom, etc. All of them complained in private However, they were all afraid to lose their jobs. It just makes you feel like you battle this fight alone when it happens to you personally.
The second instance, I knew it came from a place of anger and jealousy. However, it was her go to response and something she could say to cause a sting. She even used my ethnicity to put up a Craigslist ad trying to break up my fiancé and I. It was graphic and gross. I actually still have it because I had to file a report to get her to take it down.
Jason Galeas, 19
My mother’s side of the family is Chinese, while my father’s side is white (predominantly greek/British). I was born here, raised here, and can speak and write English better than most people in my area. I go to a top major university in Texas, and am studying environmental science. Most of the people I’ve grown up with my age have never judged me based on my ethnic background, and have treated me the same as everyone else.
The change came when I lived in a rural area of the state for a year, where predominately conservative families doing subsidy farming for a living would not only make assumptions about my race, but also harass others that weren’t “them” (being fully white, growing up in the south on a country farm). This was very new to me, and I had to develop ways to control my frustrations, as even going to a local market would be a very awkward experience, knowing many people were glaring at me as I passed, or country teenagers whispering a racist joke that I’ve heard on TV a thousand times.
One day an older gentleman at a Walmart told my mother and I to “go back to where we came from” in the “rice paddies eating our dogs.” I’ve never heard such harsh racism made is a serious, non-lighthearted way. Of course, I didn’t stand for it, so I told the guy off as best as I could (being a national debate finalist helps build you insults over the years) and made him quiet enough to leave us alone for the rest of the time we were at that section of the Walmart, but man, is it crazy to experience stuff like that. I’m grateful for all my friends and the 99% of all of the people I’ve known in my life that have not even looked at my race as something to judge, but instead, judged me based on my personality and actions, which are the true ways to define someone.
Stephanie Garza, 25
I have a simple example. I’m Hispanic, of Mexican decent. The other day, at work, a customer asked me “what country?” Just that. Sadly I’ve been in this situation before so I knew he meant “what country are you from” and I was pressed when I said America like “no, where are you REALLY from?” As if the fact that I’m not white means American couldn’t be my home just as much as him.