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Why my family in the US wants to return to Pakistan

Updated November 14, 2016

As soon as I woke up after the election night in America, messages from my relatives living in the US began to pour in. The one that struck me most was my aunt’s: “This is like a bad dream — I think I will wake up tomorrow and find out everything is back to normal.”

I contemplated going back to sleep and not facing the fact that the unthinkable has indeed happened: Donald Trump is the President of the United States.

Just when I thought the world couldn’t get any worse, it did. I believe that in voting for this man, America has voted for bigotry, misogyny, and xenophobia.

As I watched Trump make his way to the podium to give his victory speech, I could only feel disbelief. It was as though my whole system had turned upside down, refusing to process what was unfolding in front of my eyes.

We are normally under the impression that authoritarian, racist, and corrupt regimes are reserved for the third world only.

Rigged elections and political upheavals are the norm for us in Pakistan. When the state announces an emergency in the country or when there is a strike, our children celebrate. Another day off from school always feels good.

So we reluctantly accept the situation, although we don’t want our system to remain this way.

But we have never thought that this could ever be the case with the United States.

So many Pakistanis look to move to the West to be successful in life, or at least to have a better life for their children. America is seen as the land of opportunity, where many of us spend years investing our time and effort in order to land a decent job and become a citizen of what many of us believe is the most progressive country in the world.

The American Dream has had its appeal for us as well. We see it as a country built by immigrants and in which everyone has a place.

In our perception, there are many things that distinguish the US from Pakistan. Their justice system is flawless and there is immense emphasis on equal rights and opportunities for everyone, irrespective of their race or religion. We feel that the kind of violence we experience in Pakistan on a daily basis is not something that we can witness in the US.

Anything resembling what being an American looks like is admirable in the eyes of many of us. Some are impressed by their accents, attire and other American mannerisms, while some wish their children marry someone who has a blue passport.

So, many of us pack our bags to go to America to make a life there. The struggle to make it in a new country is real but we never lose our motivation despite the challenges.

But today, for the first time, it seems as though the grass isn’t that green on the other side.

Until today, I had never heard my family members who spent their whole lives in the US say they want to come back to Pakistan.

In a country built by immigrants, many who arrived recently are finding out that a significant part of the population isn’t as welcoming.

What could be a bigger confirmation of this tendency than the vote for Trump, whose campaign promise was to build a wall to keep out Mexicans and put a ban on Muslims coming into the country?

As Trump marks his victory, it is only a reminder of how people’s mindset has not changed despite eight years of Obama’s presidency, during which the outgoing President made clear efforts not to stoke Islamophobia by refusing to blame all Muslims or Islam for incidents such as the Orlando shootings or the Boston bombings.

Racism is clearly at play here.

Many of us were counting on Hillary Clinton to be the candidate to defeat Trump. Looking at the opinion polls prior to Election Day, I was confident Trump stood no chance against her.

I thought to myself that America is finally ready to vote for a female in the White House. But my hopes were misplaced.

I couldn’t begin to fathom why or how this happened. Clinton was the obvious better choice amongst the two.

But that’s when I realised that we had all failed to acknowledge that some things wouldn’t have changed under her rule either. And perhaps we overlooked the many issues with Clinton and her campaign when a racist, egocentric, and misogynist was her opponent.

Let’s not forget, Clinton is part of the governing establishment: she is Secretary Clinton. A Wall Street-endorsed candidate, she ran an incompetent campaign and lost states that were seen as ones that always vote blue.

I think if she had won, Americans would have felt proud for voting in a woman after having voted their first ever African-American head of state.

While it would have been a historic moment, and we all know it would have been better to have her in the White House than Trump, let’s not ignore the fact that Clinton had many skeletons in her closet.

And while Trump is a disaster, having too much hope in Clinton would have led to a lot of disappointment as well.

In this election, many covers have been blown.