Why My Immigrant Parents Are Voting For Trump

Photo: Sara D. Davis/Getty Images.
The following story was originally published on July 28, 2016. Asya Akchurin is a growth analyst at Refinery29. The views expressed here are her own.

My parents are immigrants. They are also voting for Donald Trump.

I found out over Father’s Day weekend, when my dad insisted, “He’s a better candidate than Hillary.”

This was followed by a very awkward silence.

I continued sipping my coffee, thinking it was the start of a joke. It wasn’t. After realizing he was serious, I almost choked with frustration, struggling for words.

“How can you even say that? Are you out of your mind?” I finally managed.

My dad doesn’t fit the profile of who you might imagine to be Trump’s typical voter. He’s an immigrant. Both my parents believe in immigration reform and many other democratic ideals. They live in Maryland, a reliably blue state, voted for Obama in the past election, and have never voted for the GOP. In fact, our “American Dream” has been realized because of democratic policies.

But come November, they still plan to cast a ballot for a candidate many consider “anti-immigrant,” (among other things).

'Trump has an awful personality, but he is an incredibly successful businessman. He has done what we [Russians] all dream of doing,' my dad explained.

My dad came to the United States from Russia 20 years ago. He left 2-year-old me, my 12-year-old brother, and our mom alone to live with our grandmother in Russia while he worked in the United States. It took him two years to save enough money to buy us three one-way plane tickets.

When he left in 1997, the socialist regime had technically been over for six years. But, when you consider my dad didn’t try yogurt or hold a Beatles album until his 20s, socialism still felt very fresh — and like a very real threat.

He has done it all to make ends meet: driven vegetable trucks from Brooklyn to Baltimore with no driver’s license, played guitar in the subway, and worked at an adult day care, all while living in a hotel room to save up money to bring us here. And, as a family, we felt the real cost and difficulties of naturalization — we missed out on a lot of “normal” things growing up because every extra penny went to the five-figure sum my parents paid in lawyer fees over the course of the 12-year citizenship application process.

Despite a less than average upbringing of eating cereal for dinner because my mom was at her second babysitting job, my parents made sure that we lived our own American Dream.
We got to take tennis lessons, go to Disney World, and graduate from college. My brother is starting his own family with his wife, and I think I’m doing pretty well on my own in New York.

I admire my dad very much for his selflessness while I was growing up — so I couldn’t see why he’d vote for Trump, especially knowing his stance on immigration. It was also Democrat-backed policies on affordable housing and 10-cent subsidized school lunches that allowed us to stay afloat during my childhood in Baltimore.

My mind was screaming, Do you even realize you literally WOULD NOT BE HERE if it were not for the very things Hillary stands for?

But I know I will never be able to change their vote. In their minds, capitalism works. And to them, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is a threat to that system. End. Of. Story.

My dad is an example of capitalism at its best. And my parents chose to come to the United States over every other country because it’s considered the land of opportunity. If you invest yourself and work hard, you will see results. Starting a life in America is a privilege, not a right.

“Trump has an awful personality, but he is an incredibly successful businessman. He has done what we [Russians] all dream of doing," my dad explained. "He has built so much through his hard work and determination. Whether you want to see it or not, he has made a lot of money and built an empire for himself."

Despite a less than average upbringing of eating cereal for dinner because my mom was at her second babysitting job, my parents made sure that we lived our own American Dream.

As important as immigration reform is for them, the idea of electing a Democrat with socialist leanings — on issues such as health care, for example — scares the crap out of my parents, and most Russians I know.

The current Democratic leaders are a far cry from a socialist government. But the rhetoric from the Democratic primary this year was enough to raise suspicion in my parents, who have spent the last 20 years trying to escape their socialist past.

They know from experience that being stuck in a country can be as bad as not being able to enter another. And even though he acknowledges that "things weren't bad under Obama," my dad truly believes that "Trump can make more people work."

"A lot of people come here to take advantage of the social benefits in America, but there shouldn’t be any shortcuts here," he told me. "I’m not certain that Trump has the solution, but it’s definitely time for a change."

While I don’t agree with them, I get it. My parents are voting for Trump, not because they want to “build a wall” or because they think it’s okay to call women “pigs” and “bimbos,” but because they’re concerned that the very thing they fled is slowly following them into the United States.

It’s not about Republican or Democrat for them — it is about avoiding history repeating itself.

It’s not about Republican or Democrat for them — it is about avoiding history repeating itself.

Some may be surprised that my parents and I hold such different views, but they respect my opinion and I respect theirs. Maybe I was too young to fully comprehend the challenges that they faced rebuilding their lives in America. Maybe it’s a generation gap between us. Or perhaps I’m influenced by living in New York City, where I’m surrounded by progressive thinking that has shaped my beliefs.

I understand why they think this is the choice for them — voting for Trump is about protecting the American Dream, not “making America great again.”

But, for me, I’ll always feel a rising swell of nausea when thinking about Trump as our next president.

As far as I’m concerned, America is already great.

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