We Cannot and Will Not Simply "Go Back"

July 23, 2019
Linh T. Nguyen, PIVOT member and Assistant Professor of American Ethnic Studies at University of Washington

President Trump’s July 14 attack on four freshman women Congressmembers Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar is consistent with his attitudes toward women and people of color who continue to challenge his attempts to reinstall outdated gender and racial politics. In the days since, his ongoing vilification of Omar and the demand to “Send her back” has solidified as a rallying call for his conservative and predominantly white base. This recent barrage of attacks is part of a larger strategy to distract from the administration’s continued aggressive border policing and new asylum policies. 

Instead of simply condemning his speech and actions as hateful, or explaining how reinvigorating his rhetoric of white grievance which positions the United States as the victim of hordes of violent and ungrateful people of color is a major part of his campaign strategy, and stopping short of insisting on our Americanness, I think another tack is warranted. Rather than taking a defensive position of responding to these constant attacks, I want to emphasize the mission of this organization and affirm our strategy of empowering, educating and engaging to build communities up. We stand by and affirm the work of these four Congressmembers who along with many communities and organizations are laboring in this long and dirty fight against inequality and injustice. We too challenge the discriminatory and dehumanizing policies that are made palatable by the simplistic and derogatory rhetorical strategies which make up Trump’s talking points. 

His outrage that four women who trace diasporic and family histories to Palestine, Puerto Rico and Somalia, countries the United States has historically treated as inferior, echoed in his comment on “shithole countries,” stems from their audacity to challenge his white supremacist words and policies. As an organization founded by Vietnamese Americans whose historical relationship to this country is also borne through racist war and unavowed imperialist projects, our political projects, just as these congressmembers’ are informed by the need to first acknowledge the ways we have been barred from full participation in this country in order to rectify this injustice. Just as the US cannot un-bomb or un-invade our countries, we cannot and will not simply “Go back.”

Photo by Matteo Paganelli on Unsplash