Many know me as the host and Executive Producer of Bravo’s Top Chef. Or, they know me as the founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America. But few know me as Padma, an immigrant.
I was four years old when I came here and joined my mother, a nurse who’d left me back in India two years prior. Despite the stigma of divorce, she ended an abusive marriage and with exactly $100 in her pocket, she arrived here in America. It was the 1970s. Inspired by the feminist movement, my mother wanted me to have a better life than she had: one with equal opportunity. She sculpted the mist, in the way those who have no other choice do, willing a life into existence. I love this country for allowing that to be possible. America has shaped our dreams, our values, and our insecurities for three generations: for my mother, myself, and now my daughter. But what if my mom and I had been turned away?
What makes America great is our culture of inclusion. We’re a superpower because we’ve managed to take the best of each immigrant culture and create our own uniquely, American culture. For all its faults and felonies, our country has been admired the world over, as a beacon of hope, because of our tradition of welcoming people, from all walks of life — until now.
What makes America great is our culture of inclusion.
Forty years after my mother arrived, our nation is now again in a state of emergency. Rights and freedoms we’ve taken for granted, are now being eroded and repealed daily in Washington. We’re squandering our goodwill and reputation, both globally and at home. What happened to “Give me your tired, your poor/your huddled masses”? What happened to that American dream?
I am alarmed by the hatred in our political rhetoric and by the recent rise of violence against our communities of color. But for several — and far too many — years, I have also been horrified, by videos and reports of our young Black and Latino boys and men, bludgeoned to death in the prime of their lives by the very system, we were told would protect us.
Our system seems to really be two systems: one for the white male establishment and another, for those of us, “unlucky” enough to be born brown, black, gay, female, trans, or just somehow different.
Now I’m a mother. I too want my daughter to have something different. I want my daughter Krishna to live in a country whose policies aren’t governed by fear but by compassion. We tell our kids to share, play fair, that everyone is equal in the sandbox. Shouldn’t our policies reflect this too?
I don’t have to be Muslim or Mexican to be offended by Muslim bans or I.C.E. raids. As Americans, we should all be offended.
Tearing undocumented parents from their children helps no one. Giving refuge to a displaced Syrian family doesn’t diminish our families’ safety. Instead, it teaches all our children the very American principles of empathy and tolerance. I don’t have to be Muslim or Mexican to be offended by Muslim bans or I.C.E. raids. As Americans, we should all be offended. We shouldn’t have to walk in someone else’s shoes, to see that those shoes must hurt terribly.
All my life I have tried not to feel powerless. In January, I protested for the first time at the Women’s March, holding all the while my daughter’s hand. And this past weekend, I joined the People’s Power Resistance Training. We cannot forget that we are all powerful and we must exercise our power now.
Now is not the time to close our eyes, and hope that this too shall pass without much harm. We must do more than just march. We must consistently resist discrimination of any kind. We must not tolerate the intolerance. We must use our power to say: enough is enough. Because to do nothing is a crime against our nation. The time for any of us to be silent is over.
We owe it to those suffragettes in Seneca Falls, those who marched for equal rights, to those who refused to sit at the back of the bus, to those beaten by Billy clubs. We owe it to our fallen soldiers to preserve what they fought so hard to defend. Democracy is an ever-evolving organism. We must not let it devolve.
Yes we are brown, and we too are American. And yes we are Muslim. We are Hindus, and Jews. And over half of us are women. And we deserve equal pay. We deserve the right to choose what we can do with our bodies.
We too are the United States of America. Let us remember who we are. Let us remember the first word in our country’s name: UNITED.