Editor’s note: Pegah Smiley gives an anecdotal account of why she believes that the United States’ mistreatment of minorities means the United States has never been truly great.
In August of this year, I finally made my decision to move back to Canada, where I was born. I had lived in the U.S. for four years, and watched everything that went down after Trump’s presidency with utter disgust: the hate, the division, the partisan politics.
I was in high school when Trump got elected. The morning after the elections, I remember clearly that I woke up at 5 am, looked at the results, shut my computer and muttered, “We’re f*****.”
And I was right.
At school, there were two types of people after the elections. The ones who were apologizing to me on behalf of all of America, and the ones who harassed me because they felt like they now had a free pass to show their hate.
Since then, I’ve watched as my POC friends grew to feel terrified of walking down the streets because some racist person might attack them out of nowhere.
I’ve watched friends being deported, or not being let back in the country. I’ve seen them getting held at gunpoint by the police, and so many other horrible things that no one should ever experience.
I Couldn’t Take It Anymore
I finally had enough, and decided to move away. Not to mention that I was not allowed to work or study in the U.S., and I couldn’t apply for a visa or green card either, because I didn’t have enough money. How did they expect me to survive with those restrictions? Who knows! But for a mix of these reasons, I couldn’t take it anymore.
Then, I had to take a one-day trip to Seattle for a doctor’s appointment. I was on a bus with a bunch of old white couples having the time of their life.
As we were getting closer to the U.S. border, I had this nagging feeling inside. I was first in line to go up to the officer and have my passport handed in. Here’s how the conversation went:
“What’s your name?”
“What’s your reason for coming into the US?”
“I have a doctor’s appointment that I have to go to here. I’ll be heading back to Canada tonight.”
Then he looked at me, glanced at my passport and said, “Take a seat.”
Everyone else in that center went through like a breeze, as I sat there.
The officer came back to me after a while and asked me to follow him to the back room.
Surprise, surprise. We walked into this room full of people of color, all lined up to get questioned by the officers.
The officer taking care of me took me ahead and immediately started the process. They asked me all kinds of questions. Questions that had clear, straightforward answers, for which there was no reason for further investigation. There was nothing more to look into!
But as everyone else was getting questioned and let go, I, as the only Middle Eastern there, was held. Two hours later, they searched my backpack, patted me down, and told me to follow them to an interrogation room. I was treated to the same questions over and over and over again.
When the officer told me that he has to check my bag and pat me down, I chuckled and said, “This is a joke! You realize I’m 18?”
He said, “I know, but we have to do this for everyone.”
Then I looked around the room with my eyes wide, stared back at him and replied, “Nope, only for me it seems!”
I couldn’t believe that he was trying to convince me of something I could clearly deduce with my own eyes. I wanted to ask him whether I looked like a dummy doll to him, but I refrained.
Furious, Exhausted, and Mistreated
I was there for more than six hours. I missed my doctor’s appointment. And they didn’t let me go until I promised to go back with my bus ride in Seattle.
Also, the doctor’s appointment was related to a green card application that my name was on, which means I hadn’t even applied for it, my name was just on it. Of course, border patrol asked me to “drop” the application as well.
When they told me that I have to drop the green card application or I’d be held in the U.S., I told border patrol that they could screw the application, and that they should let me go!
“You really want me to waste my youth as a hostage in the US while a green card application is being sorted out?” I inquired.
“Well a lot of people want a green card,” the officer replied.
“Well, I don’t!” I replied back.
And that was the end of it.
I felt furious, exhausted, and mistreated.
When I told people what happened, they were shocked. But the truth is, this is what America is, and always has been.
America has never been great. And unless they start treating people with a bit of dignity, they never will be.