"I THINK ISLAM HATES US," Donald Trump said in 2016, while still a candidate. "There's something there. There's a tremendous hatred there. There's a tremendous hatred. We have to get to the bottom of it."
Some people, especially political and media gatekeepers, were shocked by these inflammatory remarks, and by Trump's call for a "total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States." I wasn't. I pay attention. I have always taken Trump literally and seriously.
I've been paying attention ever since I was a twenty-year-old undeclared senior at the University of California in Berkeley, watching the Twin Towers fall while sitting on my couch in my Costco pajamas. Before then, I was a basic suburban kid, a son of Pakistani immigrants. My dad came here for college in 1966 and my mom arrived about a decade later, after they were married. They brought over other family members the same way as Melania Trump--through what her husband and other immigration opponents today derisively label "chain migration."
My parents thought it would be brilliant to not teach their American-born child English and also give him a tri-syllable name. They thought I'd just naturally "blend" in with the other kids at A Child's Hideaway Preschool in Fremont, California. Eventually, I learned most kids don't eat with their hands or have turmeric stains on their shirt. They also didn't speak Urdu, which is the language we spoke at home.
My fellow comrades in OshKosh B'gosh also didn't know the nuances of the history of the 1947 Partition and thus casually lumped Pakistan and all other South Asian countries into the brown bouillabaisse of India. Back then, we didn't have Priyanka Chopra or Hasan Minhaj as cultural ambassadors. Garam masala and saag paneer were not available at Safeway. South Asian teenagers were not crushing the competition at the annual spelling bee championship on ESPN. All we had was the animated Kwik-E-Mart owner, Apu, on The Simpsons.
Naturally, I blended.
Throughout elementary and high school, I became the de facto representative of Pakistan and Islam. I was often the token brown, Muslim friend for peers who eventually learned never to offer me pork and who understood why I fasted during Ramadan. Growing up in the ethnically diverse Bay Area suburbs, many of us came from immigrant families who nurtured hopes of realizing the American Dream." This included a nice house in the suburbs, a respectable job, health care, relative stability, and a solid education for the kids, who would hopefully turn out to be doctors, engineers, or wealthy businessmen: the holy trinity. Those were the only options. I eventually graduated college with an English major and am now paid to write for a living, which means that in their eyes I ended up a failure.
There was also aspirational whiteness, a desire to drive through...