It was one of those coincidences that has happened to me often in life. Not but two days after Khizr Khan, with his wife, Ghazala, standing by his side in stoic support, delivered his jaw-dropping defense of the Constitution at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, I boarded the Southwest flight home to Austin via Dallas.
I had noticed what seemed to me was an Indian family in the waiting area. They easily could have been Pakistani like Mr. Khan. I took my aisle seat and knew the middle seat would not remain empty. Indeed, while looking out the window for that unseen cloud formation that I always fear is going to force a screw out of the wing and send us plummeting to earth, a young man took the window seat. And not long after him came another young man who I came to know by his nickname, Nish. He was part of the family waiting to board in the last group. He took the middle seat.
I soon learned that Nish, his parents and a brother after landing in Dallas were driving to Oklahoma City for a wedding, well, two weddings, really: the first a Christian ceremony and then another of the same couple he said would be in Hindu. I immediately warned him to get on Interstate 35 quickly to try to avoid the construction mess near Denton, 30 miles north, where my sister lives, lest they add an hour or two to their trip.
With the plane rising into the clouds, I also learned that this young man was hell-bent on a military career, not unlike Captain Humayun Khan, who had died a hero in Iraq in 2004 helping defend his fellow soldiers and whose valiant legacy as embodied by his father at the convention might have been the turning point of the 2016 presidential race. I asked Nish if he had watched the Khan speech. He said yes, and the conversation, of course, quickly careened into all things Trump.
I was intrigued by Nish, who said he works as a paralegal at a law firm in northern Virginia while working to figure out a way to get into the Army’s officer training program. His youthful earnestness and ambition were endearing, and so knowing something of how these things can be short-circuited, I began to give him some advice about how he might be able to jump-start the process of gaining entry into the military at the officer-training level. He grew greatly enthused.
As we talked, he confirmed he was Republican at heart but that Trump was beyond the pale. I got the sense he could easily vote for a Ryan-Rubio ticket in 2020.
I found his enthusiasm ennobling but also troubling. I usually have not counseled young men or women to pursue careers that might cost them their lives. But one cannot deny a patriot his calling whatever his political persuasion or his religion, something Trump, who would purport to be Nish’s commander-in-chief, does not.
Nish’s parents were born in India; Nish and his siblings here. But Nish like so many products of immigrant parents knows instinctively that there is no escaping being labelled an immigrant in a land in which minorities are singled out for attack – even minorities who were here before the founding of the country.
Republicans like Trump and the know-nothing wing of his party do not realize that attacking minorities re-enforces the ethnic, religious and cultural constructs that support their different roots and identities. Attacks on minorities even overcome sentiments within immigrant groups, for no one should doubt the sometimes real animosity that exists between Indians and Pakistanis. In the fight against Trump, there is no difference among minorities. Ask Cuban Americans who year after year increasingly are joining every other Hispanic/Latino group coalescing against recalcitrant Republicans.
Public opinion surveys reveal that an incredibly high number of Americans — as many as 40 percent! — believe most Hispanic/Latinos in the United States are immigrants – and ‘illegal immigrants’ at that.
In today’s toxic environment, Nish will remain ever the son of immigrants – even were he, God forbid, to perish somewhere like Capt. Kahn did for his country.
Were that horrible fate to await him, he with grim coincidence would join the thousands of Hispanic/Latino military service men and women who sacrificed their lives for a country that produces the Trumps of the world.
All of these thoughts were going through my mind as I listened to Nish soberly yet excitedly talk about his future. What an incredible young man. Trump does not know what he is losing.
But in Trump losing the American votes cast by Nish and millions more like him, America gains and the legacy of Capt. Khan and thousands of Hispanic/Latinos heroes vouchsafed.
Jesús (Jesse) Treviño is the former editorial page editor of The Austin American-Statesman.