"I have done everything to be successful in this country, my country," writes PEOPLE's Elaine Aradillas
“THIS is what racism looks like,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley wrote on Twitter on Sunday, just hours after President Donald Trump set #RacistInChief trending by telling Pressley and three other women of color in Congress, all of them Democrats, to “go back” to the countries they “originally came from.”
Detroit-born Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American Muslim woman in Congress, struck a unifying tone: “That young girl that maybe looks like me and may have heard the President say this — I just want her to know that she belongs.”
Trump’s language was hurtful to many and hit home here at PEOPLE, including Elaine Aradillas, a staff writer, who wrote the following personal essay about his comments. (PEOPLE editor Mary Green wrote a corresponding essay here.)
I grew up in San Antonio, Texas, where the population is predominantly Mexican-American, like me. But I went to a public school where it was mostly white, and I often felt like I didn’t belong. In sixth grade I was hosting a slumber party, and one of my friends told me I was “a good Mexican. The good kind.”
I remember feeling embarrassed but I didn’t know why.
Today, as a crime reporter at PEOPLE magazine, I often post my work on Twitter. Not long ago I got a reply to one of my stories. Excited, I opened it: It said I should go back where I came from. Those words, which I’ve heard so often, are always a shock. My first thought is — back home to Texas? But that’s not what they mean. It’s not ever what they mean. Someone who doesn’t know me wants to hurt me. Words hurt. They’re meant to.
I am a proud first-generation Mexican-American. I have done everything to be successful in this country, my country. I earned multiple degrees and have a career I love. Yet every day, I see images of children in cages. I hear chants about building a wall and speaking English. All of this is directed at people who look like me. We have the same color skin, the same type of hair. I recognize their accents and the foods they eat. The only difference is I was born here.
From the day Donald Trump descended that escalator four years ago, his words have emboldened many in my country to tell me I’m not welcome. I walk through the streets, I travel for my job, I enter restaurants and stores, and I always wonder:
Who thinks I shouldn’t be here?