Brownsville, Tex., the border town that the author comes from. (Salwan Georges/The Washington Post)
Oscar Cásares is the author of the novel “Where We Come From.” He teaches creative writing at the University of Texas at Austin.

I come from a place called Brownsville, Tex., on the southernmost tip of the U.S.-Mexico border, where my family settled more than 160 years ago. Now I live and work in Austin, but this summer I’m teaching in Augsburg, Germany, and next summer I’ll be living in Oxford, England. I come from one place, but that one place does not tell my complete story.

President Trump recently tweeted that four freshmen congresswomen should “go back” to where they came from (even though all but one of these women of color were born in the United States). He implied, in other words, that where their families came from somehow defines them. But your family’s place of origin isn’t where the story ends, only where it begins.

The question of where we come from is at its root a question of identity. The place you identify with can be a nation, a state, a region, a city or town or suburb, a village or even a neighborhood. The question can be a little more challenging to answer if you moved around a lot when you were growing up or if you were born in one place and grew up in another. Some people will claim the places their ancestors came from; others will claim the place they were born or where they went to high school. There are people who want nothing to do with where they or their family started, and instead will decide that their story began more recently, where they currently live or are raising their own children. Still others will say they come from multiple places. There is no wrong answer.

I tell people I come from Brownsville, because this is where my story begins. I tell them I come from the border, because I write about this part of the world, and it inhabits my novels and stories and essays. I claim the place because, since I left in 1985, I have carried a piece of it with me and imagine I always will. You can be from a place, be connected to it and the people, and still be part of a larger world.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the women Trump tweeted about, has said on Twitter: “To be Puerto Rican is to be the descendant of: African Moors + slaves, Taino Indians, Spanish colonizers, Jewish refugees, and likely others. We are all of these things and something else at once — we are Boricua,” referring to the name for the island of Puerto Rico before the arrival of the Spaniards.

The president’s comment is also about belonging, or rather not belonging, as he suggested when it came to the congresswomen. His slur of “go back” came with the implication that even though the four women were elected to office, they are only marginally citizens of the country, regardless of how long they or their families have been in the United States.

“Go back,” because you don’t belong here. “Go back,” because this isn’t really your country and never will be. “Go back,” because we don’t need you. “Go back,” because you can’t keep quiet and appreciate that you’re not living in that crime-ridden place you came from. “Go back,” because I said to go back.

While his racism and xenophobia are plain to see, it’s important to remember that Trump is only a generation removed from his immigrant ancestors: His mother emigrated from Scotland, his grandfather from Bavaria, and he happens to be married to a woman from Slovenia. The difference seems to be that Scotland and Germany and Slovenia are overwhelmingly white, while Puerto Rico, Somalia and the Palestinian territories, where three of the members of Congress trace their ancestors, are not.

My predecessors came to this country from Mexico much too long ago for me to consider myself an immigrant. But growing up in a remote corner of the country, where my identity was shaped by living on the border, I was what you might call a “cultural immigrant” when I left the intimate world of my family, friends and community, and began to navigate the larger world that I have now inhabited for more than half my life.

The children of immigrants are raised with a certain fluidity. They learn the culture and customs that their families chose to bring with them, but they also encounter an entirely different world once they step outside the home. Intuitively, they learn how much of each world they can bring into the other, how much of their foods they can bring to school, how much of their new language they can bring home. They have a sense of what is acceptable, and they learn where the borders exist between each world.

No doubt there are children of color who have heard the president’s message. But what these children, particularly those of immigrants, also understand is that their parents will have to work extra hard to make it here. They understand that their families did something courageous in setting out for a new land, a place where they might not always be welcomed. They understand, no matter what, that they are here to write their own story.

Read more from Outlook:

I became an asylum officer to help people. Now I put them back in harm’s way.

The long, ugly history of insisting minority groups can’t criticize America

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