Trump’s tweets heighten fears: ‘It’s trick­ling down to the kids’

The Norwalk Hour - - FRONT PAGE - By Kait­lyn Kras­selt

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

Lind­say Perry / For Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia file photo

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.

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