No Immigrants Welcome: Learning to Navigate Trump’s America
As the daughters of a tomato factory worker and a self-employed garment seller, twins Anna and Raffaela Napolitano grew up poor. Nocera Superiore, their native town in Salerno Italy, was no place for accomplishing one’s dreams. Seeking success, Anna moved to Brooklyn, New York with Raffaela and her husband Raffaele in hopes of opening their own pizzeria. But now, over thirty years since their arrival, the Trump administration’s attack on immigrants has marked them- and anyone they deem as foreign- with a scarlet letter “O,” for other.
Navigating Trump’s America as an immigrant has proven to be difficult. His administration has attacked entire nationalities, branding them as criminals and assailants. “You’re always an outsider as an immigrant,” says Raffaela, “but the way Trump speaks-it’s an attack on our identity, even though old Italian ladies aren’t really his targets.”
The Napolitano’s newly diminished idea of America stems from the polarizing effect of the 2016 election. The political climate incubated xenophobic and nativist ideologies that made clear distinctions between those who were born in this country, and those who were simply others. The division has now made once proud immigrants turn into aggrieved citizens. “This past year has opened up [my parent’s] eyes as to how people really view immigrants,” says Annamarie Fabbricatore, Anna’s daughter. “They always thought immigrants had a great reputation, regardless of where [they] came from. Clearly that is not true and they’re really seeing that now.”
“How long have you lived in this country?,” says Anna, pointing her finger at my chest with a wry look on her face. “I can’t imagine English being hard to learn since even children can do it.” This brutal comment was not an attack aimed at me for speaking to her in tongues. Instead, Anna was recounting a recent experience she had while traveling with her family to their small house in Upstate New York.
While making a purchase at a local gas station, she asked the man behind the register if they sold windshield washer fluid. After two attempts at explaining what she needed, he gave up on trying to understand her southern Italian accent and proceeded to berate her for speaking imperfect English. After delivering a slew of Italian words that would be inappropriate to translate, Anna left the gas station thinking how much Trump seemed to change the country in one short year.
It’s safe to say she didn’t buy windshield washer fluid that day.
“It was the first time we had the chance to visit the house since [Trump] was elected,” says Anna, “and considering I’ve never faced obvious discrimination so harshly, I don’t think it was coincidental.”
Anna’s experience is not singular. It reflects a greater, societal issue of fearing what is unfamiliar, a theme the Trump administration has used to garner public support. “Racism and xenophobia were there before [Trump]; the polarization simply made it more blatant,” says David Wilson, co-author of The Politics of Immigration: Questions and Answers, in an email. “[They] have been an intrinsic part of our history since the 17th century, and maybe a certain tribalism is inherent in all human beings. But crises can exacerbate the problem, especially when politicians decide to scapegoat minorities for the system’s failures.”
Labeling immigrants as the root of systemic issues is not only present in America. Marine Le Pen’s views on immigration, Italy’s Five Star Movement, and the U.K’s Brexit Vote are all results of the same rhetoric: immigration should be feared. Although there is a focus on illegal immigration, documented immigrants are experiencing the ramifications of spreading the xenophobic discourse.
“Growing up we were taught that America is the ‘melting pot’ of the world,” says Stacey Chan, a student and Chinese immigrant. “But,” she pauses, looking toward her sister Stephanie before continuing, “how am I supposed to believe that when a man wearing a ‘Make America Great Again’ hat jokingly tells me that the country should get rid of all immigrants?” She looks at her sister again.
At the infancy of Trump’s presidency, the future of the country’s legislation on immigration is not entirely clear. The stark division between what (most of) the people want and what the government has chosen to provide them with has only created more insecurity within immigrant communities and a fragile administration constantly defending their governance. “I’d say that on the issues — immigration, health care, women’s rights, climate — the majority of the population has moved towards the left while the government has moved to the right — to the far right. The situation’s very unstable, and no one knows how it will end up,” says Wilson.
“Whether things get better or worse depends on us, on how well and forcefully we act.”