How would you respond if someone told you in a round-about way to ‘go back where you came from?’
That statement is hardly ever intended for someone from say, England or Switzerland, perhaps even Germany. I’ve only heard it used in a specific context: Someone who is not ‘American’ (i.e. Caucasian or someone who is not of European or Scandinavian descent) is asked to go home to wherever it is they came from. It was used to discourage Irish-Americans, Jewish-Americans from immigrating to the United States. It has been a black eye for the U.S. in regards to Chinese-Americans, African-Americans and Japanese-Americans. It has even been used against Native Americans. Strange, right? There’s a reason why their referred to as Native Americans because (drum roll please), they are the indigenous peoples of this country!
I recall vividly the day I returned to the U.S. from Samoa. I was a month or two shy of my twentieth birthday and I could not wait to step foot on American soil again after being abroad for nearly seven years (including a year in Hawaii – a place I still consider to be part of Polynesia even though it is in fact American soil – more on that some day).
There I was, bright-eyed and bushy tailed (AKA fresh off the boat), carefree and eager to begin living the American dream. A few years into it I found myself outside a movie theater with a group of friends. We were clean-cut, well-dressed and minding our own business. Each of us had grown up in strict Polynesian households where strong Polynesian and Christ-centered values were taught. The mantra was and still remains the same: “Wherever thou art, act well thy part”. In other words, when you’re out in public, remember that you carry your family name, you represent God and your people. We treat others with respect and pray that others will reciprocate.
Unfortunately, on that cool summer evening we were confronted with a group of revelers who did not share our same values and beliefs. As we stood in line to purchase our tickets we were taunted by the group of rowdy youths. We made a mistake that evening. We let our pride and our tempers get the best of us. As the local police intervened we were yet again faced with racial slurs and abusive language. We were allowed to go our own way without further incident but as we walked away I heard the phrase that still sticks with me today, “Go back to where you came from!”
Here’s the funny thing, I am exactly in the place where I came from so when people use that derogatory phrase in an effort to demean and disgrace me and others like me who were born and raised here, it makes that statement seem ludicrous, absurd and absolutely stupid. Because here’s the thing, if you want me to go back to where I’m from, I’m just a 12-hour drive away from Orange County! My parents are naturalized citizens of this country so asking them to ‘go home’ seems redundant and juvenile.
I absolutely hate using the race card but there are instances where people have forced the race card upon me. If you want to identify and label me as something other than tried and true, born and bred American than call me a son of an immigrant father who made his way working blue collar jobs to pay his taxes and care for his family. Call me the son of an immigrant mother who worked in factories to pay for her children’s education, their clothing and their meals. Call me an American father who honors and obeys the laws of this land and who wants to raise his sons to be honorable American men. I’m your neighbor. I belong here and have every right to be here. This is home!