— Nina Mehta

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These are very hard times. It’s easy to look away and even easier to get angry. I feel the delicious temptation to start brewing hate against people who don’t want me here. But that, my friend, is the most important resistance. We must resist to retaliate with hate. The disgusting demonstration in Charlottesville feels so far away from California. It may as well be another country.

It is not.

These people are real. This is happening at home. It’s happening right now.

Do not confuse their anger with strength. These people are afraid. Their statues are being taken down. Their values are being challenged. Their country is changing. More people, different people, are here. Their slice of the pie is getting smaller. Well, to them, it looks that way. It’s not. They believe they are protecting themselves, their beliefs, their families, and this country. Their slice of the pie.

I see it with my eyes, ears, and heart. I see it in Silicon Valley. I’m sure the Googler last week thought he was doing the right thing. Tech companies said to create a culture for vulnerability. Say what’s on your mind. We said all ideas are welcome. We said to accept different perspectives and share your wild thoughts. Be brave. Be bold. Move fast. Break things. That’s how we innovate.

That’s how we win.

We didn’t know to include an asterisk that said you must practice human decency and kindness. We forgot to say to use the intellect we hired you for. We forgot to tell you to think about the repercussions of your actions. We mistakenly thought that was implied.

We model behavior from our leaders. We model our parents, teachers, priests, managers, and too, our President. Be careful there. Many people in America are afraid right now. Some are afraid life will change and some are afraid it will stay the same. Show them strength and show them kindness. Show them what it looks like.

There is one thing, that I hope, to you, is self-evident. We are all created equal with certain unalienable rights. Among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We are in a deep conflict. This is happening at home. It’s happening right now. And these, unfortunately, are very hard times.

 

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I love late night wandering through the Castro. On this particular Friday night my happy hour faded into a barbecue, faded into a stroll home through San Francisco’s the sparkling gay district. In this story, I could have been in a taxi or buying a pack of gum, or at the gas station. I’m buying drunk pizza.

Under purple florescent lights, I crouched down to meet the slices at eye level through the smudged glass. I pointed at the melty green onion and sausage pizza calling my name. I held up a peace sign to the scruffy pizza guy with rough dust-colored skin. “Two please. To go.”

He flings the slices into the oven and we move to the register to pay while I wait. He asks me “Where are you from?” while punching numbers into the machine. I usually enjoy these kinds of conversations, I have lived in this Castro for seven years and I’m proud of it.

“Oh, I live in the ‘hood,” I say with a little grin while digging around my wallet for loose change. I realize in that moment between lipstick and an eyebrow threading punch card I’m also out of cash. I won’t have more than 10 cents to tip the guy. Shit.

“No, where are you really from?” he asks.

We trade folded bills and loose change for the sausage and green onion slices now packed up in cardboard box that matches the color of his burnt skin as my buzz deflates. I know this question and it only comes from other foreigners. He’s asking me Why aren’t you white? and Are you the kind of different I am? Did our moms go to school together? Are we long lost family-friend-cousins? In this moment I feel challenged and more American than ever. I belong here. Aren’t we in the Castro? A neighborhood for others.

I know how this kind of conversation ends because I’ve had it hundreds of times in taxis and 711s. To the cashier, this place isn’t my home and isn’t my identity. We could talk about if I have family in the States, where my parents were born, where my grandparents live, when they immigrated, how often I go back to India, and whether or not I speak the language. The longer we talk the more it would feel like a test on how Indian I am. Ultimately with a self-imposed guilt trip for eating sausage pizza. In any other circumstance, these are not the kinds of questions for any other kind of customer. But I’m the other other kind of customer.

“I grew up in Chicago!” I squeaked as I tightened the grip on my leather crossbody bag while clutching the pizza box in the other. I look up and see tan muscular men with well groomed mustaches and tight sport shorts finding togetherness in their otherness. I squeezed past them in this particular pizza spot and fly past two ladies ladies going in for their first kiss on the sidewalk. I jam my debit card into the ATM to take out some cash that’s going straight to my wallet and not in his tip jar.

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