This is Not America’s اصلیت

By Mohammed Ramzan (Northwestern University Undergraduate)

There is a word in my mother tongue—my first language, Urdu:


Noun. Pronounced as “us-lee-uth.”

I, being the child of immigrants—the product of the South Asian diaspora to America—have difficulty in translating this word from the “language of dancing peacocks, rosewater fountains,” as poet-activist Shailja Patel describes Urdu, to English. But I will try my best.

To begin, it has a negative connotation. Something’s اصلیت is it’s true colors. It constitutes the basest elements of that thing. It is it’s concealed reality. It is that which is inherent, though so it may not seem. That which eventually comes to be disclosed. It is the substance of that thing that is often distasteful. Substance whose very reality is often difficult to come to terms with. But substance that exists nonetheless. Something’s اصلیت is it’s truth. Specifically, a truth that always was, but wasn’t visible until it had been uncloaked by time and circumstance.

Last night, this country revealed its اصلیت. It’s truth. A truth of its past and of its present. Racism and white supremacy. Homophobia and transphobia. Misogyny and sexism. Classism. Ableism. Anti-semitism and Islamophobia. Xenophobia. I hate to resort to this trite laundry list of “-isms” and “-phobias,” but it is the truth. A truth, that externally, seemed to be fading away with the tides of time and social progress, but resurfaced under the guise of making this country great again. America’s اصلیت must be confronted, as half of this country cast their votes in a way that permitted this disguised and dismissed اصلیت to be revealed.

Past the Democratic primary, I had no particularly strong preference for candidate. I tried my best to remain apolitical. But this is more personal than politics. I am Muslim. I am brown. I am a first generation, child of immigrants. My disabled mother is deaf and has battled mental illness. I come from a low socioeconomic background. I am gay. In other ways, it not so much personal, but more so a matter of humanity. I am a feminist. #BlackLivesMatter. I want my country to welcome the forgotten children of Syria. I hope of a day when enthusiasm for torture does not spur campaign support, or when an individual’s ability to perform his profession is not called into question on the basis his heritage, or when the disgustingly dehumanizing label, “illegal aliens” is not used to scapegoat 11 million people. I could go on.

There is a reason I can say that I am a “child of immigrants.” Hope. Optimism. Perseverance. Love. Qualities that those before me embodied which empowered them to aspire to the American Dream, and qualities which were passed on to me. Cynicism burdens the heart, which is why I choose to believe that America’s best days are still ahead us, as a presidential candidate once put it.

This is not America’s اصلیت. This will not be America’s اصلیت.