Donald Trump’s victory in the U.S. Presidential election was met with a stunned reaction. Because racial tension was heavily laced into Trump’s campaign, the results threw many immigrants and foreigners into panic, including incoming Exeter Summer students.
Before being sent off for five weeks, foreign students were told by their parents to be more cautious, to reserve their personal opinions on the government and to avoid drawing attention to themselves.
For some, this fear of discrimination started before leaving the snug corners of their house and comfort of their parents’ arms.
Mariana Verjan, a Mexican-native, was among those concerned. Because one controversial plan that Trump promised to implement involved blocking the U.S.-Mexico border, pressure developed for Mexicans who intended to travel to the States.
“Coming to the U.S. I felt a little scared,” said Mariana. “But they told me that this school was so diverse, that there were going to be people from all over the world, that the fear diminished.”
When asked why she was initially worried, Mariana replied, “because I felt like they were going to be racist and they were going to say mean comments, like the Americans, the people itself.”
The prejudice started even before Mariana stepped on U.S territory. “And I also saw this, like two things on Facebook, like you know, advertisements that they have and it said ‘Ways to Enter to the U.S. if You Are Mexican’ and I was like ‘Woah’. And I didn’t read it but I was, like, intrigued. I didn’t know if I needed to have something else or some kind of permission. And I also saw like, you know the stores Ralphs and Macy’s and those, I saw that they were going to detain Mexicans that were found in those stores. Like if you look a little bit brown or something, they were going to ask for your passport. I saw it on Facebook so I don’t know if it was real or anything. But, I mean that was very scary.”
Meanwhile, Yasemin Kopmaz, a Turkish student shared both her father’s and her own personal concerns before she left for Exeter Summer.
“Before I came,” she began, “My dad was like ‘Americans are kind of crazy.’ Because when my dad came here, as a student many years ago, there was a lot of Islamophobic people and they made fun of him and stuff. So, I was kind of concerned that some students may be kind of Islamophobic. I’m white so I’m so quite privileged, but I was still kind of scared that people would be, kind of insensitive, but that was not the case.”
Najla Alsweilem from Saudi Arabia also had similar worries.
“I was scared before coming here.” said Najla. “I was really, really, really scared because I wasn’t sure of what kind of people I would encounter, you know. Cause, it’s such a huge campus and there’s so many people and I’ve always been afraid because I knew someday it was going to happen, someday, someone is going to approach me and talk about how corrupt, apparently Saudi Arabia is. Or they’re going to stay wrong stuff about Islam.”
Another Saudi Arabian, Juman Alghalayini, said, “I was scared that there was going to be some changes, like with the people especially, since I heard stories about like, Americans, well, some Americans becoming more aggressive and encouraged to be racist since their president is racist. I was scared there were going to be a harsh exchange of words.”
“Okay, so I was worried at first, when the news came out that Donald Trump banned a few Arab countries from entering America and I thought it would remain that way, since those people voted for him. And I was surprised when there were a lot of protest but in the end, the Arabs were allowed to enter.”
Many children also feared for their parents, those who were from genuinely ethnic roots.
“I’m Latina,” said Francesca McAllister, a South-American. “So it was scary at first, when Trump was the president. It was more scary for me about my parents than for myself, well, because my parents were residentially born in Colombia.”
Rocio Gonzalez Lantero from Spain chimed in: “My dad’s name is Jose-Gonzales. And Gonzales is like the most common last name, and Jose is a really common name too. So they stopped him, every single time they come to the U.S. And so, he even discovered that you can go to a special lane. They always stop my dad for two hours.”
Rocio also shared a little of her thoughts when Trump was elected and how for a moment, she pondered how it would affect her travels to Exeter.
“I wasn’t scared but I kind of worried. Like, when Trump came as president, I was scared of what was going to happen generally in the world, like not only coming here. As I applied, I actually asked my dad, like, ‘Imagine I don’t get accepted in the U.S because of this.’ But I don’t know, I worry a little over these since then.’”
“I’m from Spain, so I’m not going to notice as much, like, I’m not going to be that affected, but I see it affecting other people, for sure.” said Rocio. “And I find it a really big change from Obama to Trump. Like I think Obama was so sweet! I actually don’t understand when the Americans hated him so much. Like I know I haven’t been living here, so I don’t know what he did, but like, he was super anti-racism and like, it kind of showed America that it was like progressing to be like less racist. And then suddenly, they just picked like the most racist person in the whole world. That’s like – against women, against everything.”
Upon arriving in the United States and mingling with other students from PEA, many became almost free from their worries. But among the fret and trouble-free days came some rarer occasions where people showed inequity to the foreign children.
Najla shared an unfortunate exchange with another student whose name she withheld.
“I haven’t personally noticed racism from any Americans since I came here,” said Najla. “But basically, there’s this kid from China. I saw this interesting car, and it was like this Batman car and then like I said ‘The cars in Exeter are very interesting, how Exeter has all of these like, old cars’. And then he was like, ‘Well, just because they don’t ride camels like where you’re from doesn’t make it wrong’. And then, that’s where it started. He just kept mentioning the camels and then he kept on mentioning that Saudi Arabia is corrupt. And I’ve never even met him before, like this was my first impression of him. He was being horrible, like the entire time we didn’t talk about anything else. And I kept on telling him, I told him, ’You really don’t have the right to say that. You’ve never been to Saudi Arabia. You haven’t ever met anyone from Saudi Arabia except well, me. And the only source you have to learn about Saudi Arabia is the Western media. And the Western media portrays Saudi Arabia in such a wrong way, it depicts it so negatively. So therefore, you don’t have the right.’
“So that, made me angry. Because I thought people were becoming less racist, because I’ve been to the U.S. many, many times, but I’ve never had someone say it directly to my face. Like I’ve had people who kind of had, like a stink face after I tell them I’m from Saudi Arabia, or they just like, back off. But I’ve never had anyone tell me to my face that Saudi Arabia is corrupt and that we ride camels.”
Although more general, Mariana and Yasemin also expressed the slight discrimination and labelling that they experienced.
“I guess when you’re here, you have the stereotypes of every country,” said Mariana. “So like, a few people ask me some things. For example, the other day I was in the shower and I played music and it was rap and this girl asked me, like she didn’t know in Mexico they listened to rap, and I was like “Okay, yeah we do. And a lot.”
Yasemine added that “there are some culturally insensitive people but it is not like, from hate but from ignorance, kind of, because they don’t really, you know, they probably only like live in their hometowns and stuff. It’s like mostly the Americans, it’s their first time interacting with people from other countries, so they can sometimes be, ignorant.”
Nevertheless, during all the interviewed students’ time in Exeter, none experienced an extreme display of racism or discrimination. A few claimed that this was because they were not exposed to the more metropolitan American cities and constantly surrounded by diverse students.
“We’ve been here, like, in a kind of bubble, in PEA.” said Rocio. “I can’t be affected by it so much because, like what? I’ve been in Boston two times for five hours. That doesn’t really count.”
Juman seemed to agree. “I guess I couldn’t say they were proven wrong because I haven’t been out of Exeter, I have been sheltered. And the people here are very kind. I’m more worried about the places outside like Boston and New York and all those popular spots. I’m more worried about being in a place where it’s mostly Americans rather than a place where there is a lot of diversity.”
Rocio also said that Donald Trump has not been in office long enough to see a strong change. “Like, he has not been president for enough time, so you can’t tell. A year is nothing, and it’s not even been a year.”
But Bader Alqahtani judged the situation from a wider and a long-term perspective. He believes that there is a great chance for American citizens to be more open and vocal on racist issues.
“It’s very very possible,” he said. “An example of this is like, after the Brexit votes in London, there has been a spike in racial encounters with people, I think it was once 8% or something and then it rose up by 17% , like spiked up. So yeah, people have got into conflict and stuff. So, I think that’s like a very very possible thing, with Trump as president and everything.”
Despite the students’ doubts and accumulated agitation, the majority were disabused of their fears. They even decided to see the light in Trump’s presidency and attempted to make good of the situation.
“If anything,” said Najla. “I think people are more aware of racism because of Trump. So, I mean it depends on the person. Some people can take it in the positive way, and some people can take it in a negative way.”
Rocio spoke out similar thoughts. “There can be two edges from this. Maybe they realize, and then stop, and they are like, a bit but not super racist. Or, they could get more racist.
Students were then asked of their thoughts on people who were now more daring or feel encouraged to be stereotypical, to label people, to express racial slurs and or to be simply more discriminating because of the President’s approach to these ideals.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Najla. “Because it doesn’t matter who the president is, because, it’s like your betraying your own moral character, you know. And I don’t understand how someone could allow themselves to be that way.”
“I guess like,” Mariana began, “If their leader, like their representative is a racist guy, why wouldn’t they? Like, I think it makes them feel safer, like it’s supposed to be their role model, the representative, so why wouldn’t they. But still, I think it’s pretty stupid. If they see, if they believe what their president is doing is wrong, why would you follow him?”
Meanwhile, Yasemin encouraged individuals to “research and don’t assume stupid things.” She proposed people who were more narrow minded to not “come forward and tell the stereotypes that you thought about a person, to their face, because it’s probably not true and you should just, you know, be a polite human being and sometimes, keep your thoughts to yourself. Try make intelligent conversations with that person if you were wondering about their culture and just stay away from making assumptions.”
American citizens also had a few things to say about individuals who feel motivated to express prejudice against those who are not of the same race or cultural background. “Citizens of America,” said Maggie Chavis,. “shouldn’t be swayed by our president’s actions towards racism.”
Hannah Mascuch, a Long-Island resident also conveyed her disappointment. “It’s terrible that people are afraid to come to America because the U.S. was built on the foundation of welcoming people and how like everyone would have a second chance. It was a welcoming place for immigrants. It was like a safe haven. But even with the current President, Americans should try to stay welcoming and look beyond people’s backgrounds.”