This presidential election has been like a New York City subway brawl between a drunkard and a sober albeit crazy person. Someone will eventually call the cops, but in the meantime everyone takes out their phones to live tweet this mess.
This summer, my parents and I watched the absurdity unfold at the GOP Convention like it was Saturday Night Live. But somewhere between the actress with the avocado farm and an unhinged Rudy Giuliani, I realized that my parents weren’t laughing with me anymore. They were contemplating the words, “Make America great again.” They were muttering “yes” at the mention of enforcing immigration laws.
It’s no surprise that Trump supporters are largely white Republicans in the Midwest. But my parents are first-generation Chinese immigrants who have lived in New York City for two decades. They have been registered Democrats for as long as they’ve been able to vote, casting their first votes as Americans for Obama in 2008. Yet as the Obama administration comes to an end, my parents find themselves disenchanted by the Democratic Party and wary of Hillary Clinton, who, among other actions in support of naturalizing illegal immigrants, plans to defend Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. “Why should illegal immigrants be allowed to stay? What have we worked for then?” my mom retorted when I asked her why she was considering voting for Trump.
Thirty years ago, my parents were granted student visas, eventually obtaining permanent residency until they finally traded in their tattered, red passports for stiff, blue ones. The American Dream was their opportunity to earn success through hard work. Though they have always believed that the values of the Democratic Party most closely aligned with their own, they began to question whether or not the Democratic Party’s American Dream reflects their idea of it. Can a party that advocates for granting amnesty to illegal immigrants still value the hard-earned citizenship of legal immigrants?
Though they dismissed everything else he said as insane, Trump’s determination to eliminate those who do not legally earn United States citizenship struck a chord with my parents. Amidst controversial comments regarding women and leading chants demanding to lock up Clinton, something in Trump’s attitude toward illegal immigration reflects my parents’ pride in being legal immigrants. “It’s our right as a sovereign nation to choose immigrants that we think are likeliest to thrive and flourish and love us,” Trump said. The notion of being chosen resonates with my parents, the only ones out of their siblings to attend college, let alone receive graduate degrees in the United States. Having stood out academically in a country where education is of utmost cultural importance, they perceive their admittance into the United States as both the ultimate recognition of past and indicator of future success.
It’s easy to understand why white Americans identify with Trump’s stance on illegal immigration. The fear of losing privilege only pertains to the privileged. Yet my parents do not relate to the country-clubbing, old-money politicians that once represented the Republican Party. While Trump is no doubt a rich man, he is not a politician. He is a businessman who has built an empire (at least in name) that could only have existed in a capitalist society. To my parents who’d never dreamed of the possibilities of capitalism while growing up in China, Trump embodies the American Dream.
My parents’ agreement with Trump’s stance on immigration expresses their desire to exercise the same privilege that white, middle-class Americans possess. While they may not have been born with it, they believe that if the American Dream is alive and well, they have earned it. It is not unfathomable that my father, who works six days a week and on holidays, feels a sense of comfort when Trump claims that he intends to protect the economic stability of legal immigrants by restricting undocumented immigration. Whether or not this is true, and whether or not Trump really is an embodiment of the American Dream, is unimportant. What matters is that he represents it for people such as my parents, who are looking for a reason to believe in it.
Katlyn Huang is College junior from New York City, New York.