"I have done everything to be successful in this country, my country," writes PEOPLE's Elaine Aradillas

By Elaine Aradillas
July 16, 2019 06:00 PM

“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.”

Courtesy of Elaine Aradillas

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?