NEW YORK, US, 4 February 2017
The wintry wind whips past your tender face, and despite your efforts to cover it, the chill still gets to you. That’s the Trump effect that raised every bent strand of our hair since he infamously took office. Such is the unstoppable predicament that has gripped this recent Divided States of America, ever since Trump became the unlikeliest of presidents in recent memory.
On the eve of Trump’s signing the executive order that banned all Muslims and refugees, I was, all unaware of these events, on a wingspan half the size of a football field soaring above 35,000 feet, flying from India where I had attended the Kalachakra teachings, initiated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama for world peace in the holy soils of Bodh Gaya. Landing at JFK Airport, I was welcomed to my surprise by a huge galvanized protest, which had my unnerved cabbie scurry out of the airport before a possible clash that he said could erupt with the police. I could see that force on the other side, standing ready for a forcible quench in case the protest should turn unruly.
The barrage of executive orders that Trump unleashed was little surprise given his campaign rhetoric. He was now walking the talk that had won him the elections the first place.
But, born a refugee myself, to refugee parents, this one order banning muslims turned things personal on a burning scale. To, without any humane forethought, actually rub salt into the wounds inflicted through decades of destruction, death, destitution, and displacement, to close the door of the most sought-after safe haven, was like blowing out the last glimmer of light that consistently shone through the darkest tunnels of hope. A tunnel that my race and all races had to suffer, who were subjected to brutal invasion, totalitarianism, and dictatorship, coiled through decades of oppression, injustice and dehumanization, and finally becoming refugees.
Passing every morning with more distasteful surprises since President Trump’s post-electoral win, and the paradigm-shifting momentum that had engulfed the political air on the Western Hemisphere, from Brexit to the growing ideology of protectionism, anti-establishment, and populism gaining ground. I could slowly swallow with the settling of the dust the forced facts as they were pebbles through our throats, weighing through the pros and cons of globalization and the efficacy of the levelling of the economic playing field, where few played foul such as China as a massive currency manipulator. And the myriad outdated trade agreements that once aspired to provide a support base for the underdeveloped world to stake in towards prosperity. I could slowly understand the urge to build walls on the Mexican borders, since it’s unlike the Berlin Wall, and knowing that Mexicans would drill tunnels anyway to get in. I could understand the logic of repositioning of US armies worldwide on our taxpayers expense to protect nations from rogue states such as North Korea, a protectorate state in South Korea that has flourished so well off the boons of Silicon Valley that would actually feed us with their newfound wealth. I could understand the efforts in draining the Washington Swamp, and then laugh about the futility of his efforts by injecting the same greasy, thick, and corrupted souls for political correctness that blocked the pipe in the first place.
But one thing I failed to understand, at the cost of almost losing my sanity, is the idea, the essence, the fabric, and the crux of our nation that was built upon the toil of hard-working immigrants, to abruptly change its course, to ban and discriminate against the very people who contributed so much to make this country great. A nation where Lady Liberty welcomed all, bearing a torch to guide the war-torn refugee, famine-struck victims, for safe haven from imminent death, famine, and darkness. A nation that eighteen years ago I had embraced with the touch of liberty, compassion, opportunity, and justice for all, coming from the insecurity of being stateless and with my country razed to the ground by the Chinese.
At work I came across a Bangladeshi family who had planned to visit their ailing parents whom they had not seen for over eight years. Their aged parents, probably from the softness of their memory-filled pillows, waiting for one last glimpse of their sons and daughters return through that door they saw them last leave many years ago, now probably would have to wait a long time, only if they could gather enough air to survive through their failing lungs. Amidst growing fear of deportation of even Green Card holders, this family with a bursting heart decided with anguish to abandon their long-planned trip.
This fear of possibly refusing to let in at the brunt of being a Muslim stereotyped as a potential terrorist couldn’t be vivid, when my people, the Tibetan refugees, crossed the biggest natural Himalayan wall only to be arrested by the Nepalese border police, of course from their conscience being sold, deported back countless Tibetans to face imminent death and endure lifelong torture in the Chinese gulags. This is as personal as it gets, over-arching everything else Trump rampaged with his executive orders.
He can build a wall to protect his country from illegal immigration, but to burn every bridge of embracing inclusiveness and seeds of diversity, this country a crucible on its own, long prided on, over its symbolic diverse star spangled banners. Barring refugees and limiting one with cases of extreme vetting literally closes every avenue and to imagine war-torn countries like Syria, where cities like Aleppo that once was a thriving cosmopolitan world and to see it reduced to obliterating rubble by the barbarism of ISIL.
And to close the door for refugees such as these, who are collecting every bit of courage to rise from the ashes of destruction, is simply outrageous and contradictory to the humanitarian values that this country upholds. It’s discriminatory, blatantly unconstitutional, and plainly UnAmerican. It’s a recipe for division, separation and isolationism that will puncture the moral ethics of this country for a long time. Its effect will be deadlier than a nuclear attack, because this would be an attack on people’s minds and sentiments, and minds matter a lot. Trump cannot trump over morality for long, at least that’s what we can hope for. But for now, it seems the only person that can stop Trump is Trump himself, and that is as uncertain as his midnight tweets and erratic leadership.
About the author
Ugyen Gyalpo lives in Woodside, New York, and works as an insurance agent for United Health Group, New York.