Trump’s tweets heighten fears: ‘It’s trickling down to the kids’
The phrase slipped out of a child’s mouth so easily as they played together on the playground.
“You’re Mexican. When are you leaving?”
The woman who witnessed it, Catalina Horak, said she wished she could say it surprised her — even months before President Donald Trump directed a similar sentiment at four members of Congress — but it didn’t.
“The president is just reinforcing the behavior,” Horak said. “It’s way more than just the adults. It’s trickling down to the kids.
... The perception is that if you look different, you’re taking things away as opposed to contributing. I’ve spoken with people who were born here but who look different who
are worried about people thinking of them as people who are taking things away from this country as opposed to contributing to this country.”
Horak, who immigrated to the United States from Colombia and became a U.S. citizen more than 30 years ago, has spent the past week meeting with senior school officials in Stamford who are working to make sure that as the school year approaches, minority children feel welcome returning to the classroom in light of the president’s racist tweets.
Trump tweeted Sunday that four minority congresswomen should “go back … (to) the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came,” prompting outrage on one side and emboldening his supporters.
On Tuesday, the Democraticled House and four Republicans voted to condemn the president for his tweets. By Wednesday, his supporters were chanting “Send her back,” at a rally in North Carolina.
“All of this makes me question why I’m here,” said Horak, the executive director of Building One Community in Stamford.
“I’m an immigrant. I’ve spent more than half of my life in this country. Now everything I’ve done is bad just because I’m an immigrant and a progressive person who believes that everyone should have the opportunities I’ve had? For many of us who are not born in the (United) States, it makes you question the decisions that you made. On the other hand, it makes you even more committed. I know what this country is about, I’ve had those opportunities. My commitment is to helping others have the same thing. My passion is the highest it has been, but it’s a time where you really struggle. I gave up so many things. I raised my children away from my family for a better life. After so many years, this is what it’s all about?”
The president’s comments are striking fear not only in firstgeneration immigrants, but in people of color whose families have lived in the United States for generations.
A New Haven pastor who leads a diverse congregation of people from 18 different Spanishspeaking countries said he’s spoken to several families who are not leaving their homes this summer — keeping their children out of summer camps, skipping vacations and abstaining even from day trips to amusement parks and beaches because their fear has grown so burdensome in recent weeks.
Even the Sunday Mass he leads in Spanish has seen a disproportionate drop in attendance, he said, because families have grown fearful — even second and thirdgeneration immigrants whose families have been U.S. citizens for decades — of what could happen if they’re part of a large gathering of immigrants. The usual Mass attendance of 800 dropped by more than half following the president’s threats of raids by immigration enforcement officials, he said.
“They say to me, ‘I couldn’t sleep because I just kept thinking what’s going to happen tomorrow,’ ” said the pastor, an immigrant from Mexico with Native American ancestry, who asked not to be named because he has received death threats after speaking publicly.
Carroll E. Brown, president of the West Haven Black Coalition, said she was disturbed by the president’s comments and felt he seemed to relish in the chants of “Send her back,” coming from his base.
“How dare he tell those women of color to go back where you came from,” Brown said. “He should look at his own family. They welcomed his inlaws, nobody told them they shouldn’t have gotten off that boat.”
“It is not a new low. It is the same old low of racism that we’re hearing from him,” said Chris Halfar, a resident of Danbury for the last 20 years. “The law EEOC says in their regulations that it is racial discrimination to say ‘go back where you came from’ to an employee or a fellow worker. That is actionable behavior.
“I am outraged and disgusted, but I am not surprised about anything that comes out of his mouth because he is just beyond horrible,” Halfar said.
Claudia Connor, too, was saddened but not surprised by the president’s tweets. She was even less surprised when he doubled down in defense of his comments, citing the president’s history of similar comments from long before he was ever elected president.
“The reality is that even prior to these tweets, the environment that’s been created over the past couple of years by the immigration policies is inherently racist. The antiimmigration sentiment at large is at an alltime high,” said Connor, the president and CEO of the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants. “The language of ‘go home’ isn’t just a new phrase. There’s a whole legacy of hatred and racism that is just inherent in that phrase. We know that the current environment is terrifying for immigrants and refugees.”
Connor, who is white, grew up in the segregated South and was bused to school in the effort to desegregate. She has witnessed racism her entire life, and thought by now, the conversation might have changed. Clearly, it hasn’t.
“The United States has always been a humanitarian leader in trying to embody the values that are truly at the core of our nation, although it’s not always evident these days. The president has allowed this sort of racism. He has allowed racists from Charlottesville on, to really reveal themselves with impunity,” she said, referencing comments the president made following a white supremacist rally in 2017 where he said there were “some very fine people on both sides.”
“Now, talking to people who were born in America, speaking to them with such profound hatred. It is really painful and unbelievable, and will open the floodgates,” Connor said.
“I’m an immigrant. I’ve spent more than half of my life in this country. Now everything I’ve done is bad just because I’m an immigrant and a progressive person who believes that everyone should have the opportunities I’ve had?”
Catalina Horak, executive director of Building One Community
Catalina Horak of Building One Community speaks during a rally at Greenwich Town Hall, one of hundreds around the country, to protest family separation at the border on June 30, 2018.