It breaks my heart to read Cathy’s words. I am reminded of my own family’s attempts to leave countries where their identity put their lives in danger. Never again does not just apply to Jews.
Why we aren’t moving back to the U.S.
by Cathy Merchant, Vancouver, B.C.
Earlier this week, I was told that I’m un-American because my family and I left the U.S. One of my long-standing friends from back home (rural Pennsylvania) wrote to say that I shouldn’t be celebrating Biden’s victory over Trump because I’d already left the country, since I apparently “didn’t like it” anymore.
I didn’t know how to tell them that the life-long Canadians around me were also celebrating Biden’s win this week. As were those setting off fireworks in London and ringing church bells in Paris, celebrating this clear victory of democracy over fascism.
Yet what bothered me even more about their message was that they were implying that we had just been petulant. That we had thrown a tantrum in 2016 when our candidate lost and packed up all our toys and moved to Canada. That we should have just sucked it up and waited our turn, like normal Americans.
Well, let me tell you—waiting looks different, when you’re not white or Christian.
My husband is a South Asian Muslim man, and he had just renounced his Indian citizenship in 2013 to become an official U.S. citizen. At that time, he was more than happy to do so. On multiple occasions, he had raved to his family back home in Mumbai about how much he adored Seattle and how we were planning to stay there forever.
Yet by the night of the 2016 election, my husband collapsed on the floor in tears and made me promise him that we would leave the country as soon as possible and take our children somewhere where they could be safe. Our daughter was 2.5 years old at the time, and I was six months pregnant with our son.
Leading up to that devastating night, hate crimes against Muslims in the Seattle area had been skyrocketing. Trump’s harsh rhetoric against Muslims (and virtually every other minority group, sadly) was emboldening his most violent supporters. There were bomb threats made to several mosques in our area, including the one where I worked several days a month helping set up Interfaith events. Worshippers at my husband and daughter’s mosque were threatened. At another, a would-be shooter had barricaded himself outside and needed to be escorted away by police. And several of our friends were attacked—beaten, almost hit by a car, had their hijab torn off.
As terrifying as those events were, they only intensified between November 2016 and when we finally made it to Vancouver, BC on July 1, 2017. During those painstaking eight months, the mosque where I worked had its sign destroyed twice and had protesters outside threaten children who were coming in for religious classes. Another mosque just 15 minutes from us was burned down. Even more of our friends were threatened and attacked. And, of course, Trump’s infamous Muslim travel ban was put into place, causing mass chaos at airports across the country and almost resulting in my in-laws (whose Indian passports list them as being Muslim) not being able to visit us to meet our son when he was born.
To say now that we left the U.S. in a snit just because we “didn’t like it” and that our having left (while still retaining our U.S. citizenships and continuing to vote in the current election) is un-American is false and white-washing.
Sadly, even before this, I had been called un-American for having married a Muslim in the first place. And, of course, my husband has been called “un-American”—even though he literally abandoned his previous citizenship in order to become an American citizen—because he’ll always be brown and Muslim, no matter what.
But the people who committed these terrible hate crimes against their fellow Americans and who literally drove us away are somehow still widely considered “proud Americans” and not un-American, at all. Am I right?
Okay, then. Just so we’re clear.
And that is why we aren’t moving back to the U.S.—and endangering ourselves and our children—ever again, even after this election. Because apparently we all have very different ideas about what it means to be a good American.