An Open Letter to All My International Student Friends

It is hard to imagine that on Tuesday night, a Trump presidency was just a passing thought, and only a few hours later when Ohio, Pennsylvania and then Wisconsin flipped red, we greeted our worst fear, materialized.

While many people across this country – more than 59 million of them, to be exact – are overjoyed and celebrating an orange-faced sexist rapist, the other 60 million felt silenced and wounded. Everything became clear: the divide has been too deep, too wide and gone on for too long, that the silent majority that voted for Trump has been hurt and fucked over by the system and now they are out for revenge, and that the democracy that the world looks up to is flawed and rotten inside out.

I am hurt, angry, fearful and feeling hopeless. Drifting in and out of the cycle of grief, I can’t seem to pull myself away from the overwhelming tension and sadness that have permeated every corner of our campus overnight. I know that as an international student, my stakes are not as high – I have a home to go back to, at least, if a Trump administration turns out just as despicable as his person and his campaign. I am still hurting nevertheless, because I am an Asian woman living in a new reality where white supremacy is normalized. It also breaks my heart to think about the refugees, the undocumented illegal immigrants who fled war, tragedies and hardships, other students of color, queer students, and any other persons of marginalized identities.

But most importantly, it was difficult to process everything, because I wasn’t only dealing with the confusion over the results, or the real threats of hate crimes just like any other marginalized groups here. It was also more than just the fear that maybe I won’t get the H1-B visa when I graduate, or the internship I really wanted. For many of us who are international students, it is also a struggle to deal with the insensitivity from our home country, where many don’t fully understand the event, don’t know the people that became our home away from home, and can quickly crack a joke on our grief and our situation.

For me, on Tuesday night, we lost sight of the America that, I’m sure, many international students like me have known of and dreamed of, when we decided to uproot ourselves and fly across oceans to study and live here. I have always wondered the underlying reason for so many of us wanting, fighting and working all our lives to get here and study at an American institution. And while the specifics might vary, I feel that many international students can agree on one thing: that we have grown up trusting that this is where we could get the best education for ourselves to pursue our own versions of the American Dream. This is the place where we will be accepted with open arms and zero judgements about who we are and what we love. A place where girls can study science and engineering and play hockey, without people telling us that girls shouldn’t do those things. A place where I am free and can reach for the sky if that is my dream, without having people telling me that I should just settle and get married right after college because my biological clock is ticking.

Over the last two years, I have gotten all those things, and more. Still, sexism exists. So do racism, bigotry, xenophobia, amongst other things. America is not perfect, because no single place can be. My American Dream is renewed and refined. Through people around me, I learned that the spirit of love, acceptance and celebration of every human being still prevails, even in the darkest nights.

The election of Trump is not just another presidential election. It is the deliberate choice made by half of America to extinguish that spirit and to choose hate and fear, to normalize sexism, racism, xenophobia, to isolate America, and to say a big fuck-you to the rest of the world.

That being said, I am heartened and lucky to find myself in a community that belongs to the other half of America, the one that still embodies everything that I love about this place. The amount of love and support that immediately poured out regardless of our different identities was incredible. I can no longer keep track of the countless number of hugs I received and reciprocated over the last 48 hours. It’s amazing to see that same spirit bounce back and amplify as we grieve, heal and push forward together.

I don’t want to be angry any more.

To all of my American friends who are hurting and healing, thank you for letting me cry alongside you and sharing with me your stories, your fears and your hopes. Thank you for showing me how to give, to love and to support, even when we are all in pain.

To all of my friends who are international students, please keep the faith that this is not the end of the America that we have come to know. Please share the love, not only to support one another, but also to reach back to our homelands, where people might have yet to fully comprehend this event and its ripple effects. And although it is frustrating, please be kind when offering your words of wisdom, because of the immense privilege we have, being here, being educated and being given the first-hand knowledge of what is going on. It is never an easy thing to change people’s minds, especially when they are deeply ingrained with biases. But we are the lucky ones in the position of in-betweeners, who can translate the context correctly, so that the true story of loss, of grief, but also of love and hope, shines through, and help them understand.

This is a monumental moment for all of us, regardless of who we are. I don’t want to feel fear and hopelessness any more. This community has shown me so much love, strength and courage, so in a Helen-Kramer fashion, I’d just like to say one more thing:

Fuck the fear.

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