Fighting my husband’s deportation: Reflections on being a white mother in a mixed-race, mixed-status family
I stumble down the driveway with our five-week-old infant in my arms, in the hushed quiet of dawn. My eyes are gritty from interrupted nights and early mornings. My baby’s eyes widen to take in the contrast of dark trees and sky. Already, the sky is sullen with forest fire smoke and the anticipated heat of another 100 degree day.
Soon, my husband will wake, and sit at our kitchen table to wrap his hands around his coffee cup and these few moments of silence before his day fills with both the brute sounds of roofing and those of our four and six-year-old sons.
He has pushed right through this heat wave. If he and his crew stop and rest at midday, it is only because the shingles will melt and distort from their weight, and not for the sake of their bodies.
On a recent holiday weekend, I binge-watched Stranger Things and relished every throwback to the 1980s that the series pays homage to such as when we used to ride our bikes to friends’ homes, played Dungeons and Dragons for hours, listened to the Clash on our Sony Walkman, or rode our skateboards. For a Pakistani woman growing up in the 80s in a small New England college town, Stranger Things is more than just a walk down memory lane to a simpler time when there was a conspicuous absence of technology and today’s pervasive cultural anxiety. There was also a refreshing absence of turban-clad, villainous bearded men dressed in black, sporting machine guns, and shouting “Allahu Akbar!” The bad guy, thankfully, was not a Muslim terrorist in the series, but a scary other worldly monster.
Growing up Black in a predominantly White church, I didn’t believe racism angered God. In retrospect, this is no surprise: the standard practice in Christian churches has been to push a message of unity at the expense of addressing deep-rooted issues of oppression. Common narratives within the church often echo the message, “We are all Christians, aren’t we? So put aside your differences. Focus on the goodness of the Lord!”
Consequently, I assumed that racism was outside of God’s realm of concern. How else to explain why my church leaders stayed clear of any discussion of race when Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown were murdered by police and when Sandra Bland died in police custody? I assumed that because my pastor didn’t focus on these issues, neither did God.
My family tells me that for several days after November 8th, I curled up on the couch and cried inconsolably. I barely remember that week, as I was frozen with terror for my family and other loved ones. When I told my children what had happened, my 11-year-old, an immigrant and Latinx child, asked if she should leave the country and go “home”.
In the darkness of the very early morning of November 9, 2016, my husband and I lay awake in our bed. By 3 a.m., we realized that neither of us would sleep again that morning, and we turned to each other and began talking. During those fraught early morning hours, we cycled through grief, anger, numbness, disgust, and then back through them again as many of our worst fears about our country became much more real.
My white husband cried at the now all-too-real prospect of nuclear conflict and of our now ten-year-old son and his peers going to war. Stunned, I replied, “You’re worried about THAT?” While nuclear war seemed much less far-fetched than it had the previous day, it was nowhere near the top of my list of immediate concerns. Rather, as a woman of color, I feared that overt acts of racism and hate crimes would be perpetrated close to home in our progressive, left-leaning Boston neighborhood.
When I explained this to my husband, he replied, “You’re worried about THAT? That won’t be an issue here. I don’t think you need to worry about that.”
Because I am African American raising children of color, and because of my professional experience in social justice, equity and inclusion work, many people believe that my children have an advanced, even adult-like understanding of these complex social issues.
No. My children understand these issues the way a seven and four-year-old would.
Dispatch from a "progressive" college town.
I am an immigrant — a brown-skinned, Muslim, South Asian woman, a minority, a U.S. citizen. But I am an outsider. I have spent a large part of my life feeling this way. I was born in Pakistan to Bangladeshi parents.
When I was four, my father was transferred to Delhi for work. I grew up in India, and my family relocated to Bangladesh when my father retired. I was 18 and angry with my parents — I didn’t want to leave the country I called home. Now, I proudly say I’m Bangladeshi but have never felt I belonged in my country; I visit because my mother lives in Dhaka. And though I’ve been in the U.S. for 25 years, I don’t feel American.
I am accustomed to feeling like an outsider, but in the current political climate, I am more afraid here than I’ve ever been.
When I was three years old, my mother took me to visit the attic hiding place of Anne Frank in the Netherlands. My family was in Europe not for a trip, but because my father, a Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant to the United States, was stationed in Germany while serving in the US Army. I have no memories of the trip, but for my mother visiting Anne’s last home was very intentional. She wanted to bring her daughter to the home of a young Jewish girl who, generations ago, hid with her family in a cramped attic hoping for a peaceful world amidst one of the most brutally violent and xenophobic periods in modern human history.
Last month, as Hurricane Matthew was barreling down upon the southeast, my husband and I flew with our son to North Carolina for a wedding. Our eight-month-old did well on the first leg, but for the home stretch we were that family. By the time we stepped out of the terminal, I was soaked — whether from slobber or storm spray, I wasn’t sure — but soon we were in a blue Camry hybrid, being whisked to the rehearsal dinner by our friendly (white) Uber driver.
I’d had misgivings about this wedding. Not only because traveling with an infant is comparable to having your back waxed in public (there’s just no way you’re going to come off well), but because it was in North Carolina. When the state passed its notorious “bathroom bill” in March, I wondered whether my husband and I should ever visit again. When Keith Lamont Scott was killed by Charlotte police in September, I knew that my queer, mixed-race family were personae non gratae.
A response to my brother, who did not vote and is not afraid
November 8, 2016
On election day, I was driving to my mother’s house to offer and to receive moral support on an anxiety-ridden day. My youngest daughter asked me to turn on a Quran CD. My eldest daughter groaned as I turned it on.
As we pulled up to a traffic light, we were approaching some construction where two police officers were directing traffic. My older daughter went into a panic. She insisted that I turn off the Quran because the police were right there and might hear it.
“So what?” I asked.
“Are you crazy? They’re going to think we’re — Mommy! They could tase us! They could beat us! They could shoot us! Turn it off!”