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Go Back Where You Came From

| July 23, 2019

Home, in the P Section. (© FlaglerLive)

Home, in the P Section. (© FlaglerLive)

Go back where you came from.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard that line, I’d be investing in euros by now. I’ve been hearing the line on three continents for going on six decades, with a few happy exceptions. So the good news is that it is part of the universal lexicon. It’s one of those rare greeting cards that would be understood in every time zone by every culture, literate or not. The line, along with its mentally deficient cousin–“if you don’t like it here, leave”– ironically feels at home anywhere on the planet, because it’s spoken everywhere in every language, every gesture, and especially these days, with the wonders of anonymity and the sewers of social media, every keyboard, even allegedly presidential ones.

pierre tristam column flaglerlive.com flaglerlive You’re born, your first words are mom or dad, and before long, you’re either hearing go back where you came from, or, if you’re the bullying kind, telling it to somebody. The first time I heard it must’ve been from one of my older brothers, who’d have been telling me to go back where I came from, meaning my room, if I was aggravating him too much.

The first time the line really stung I was 13 years old and in boarding school in England, freshly exiled from where I came from, and surrounded by snotty little English kids who liked nothing better than to tell a pimply Lebanese to go back where he came from. I didn’t speak English at the time but that line, I could understand perfectly. The reason it stung wasn’t because I took it as an insult, but because I very much wanted to go back where I came from. I was homesick. It’s all I thought about day and night. But I couldn’t go back. Lebanon was at war. The only place I could go back to was my dorm, which didn’t smell that good.


A year later we made the move to New York and I was enrolled at the United Nations International School, where all of us high school kids were from somewhere else. Since these were diplomats’ sons and daughters for the most part, each had lived on a raft of continents by now, so if any of us started going down the path of telling someone to go back where he or she came from, there’d be no end to it. That’s all we’d be saying all day. Manhattanites could still tell me to go back to Queens, as foreign and lovely a country as any I’ve known, but it didn’t have the same ring, the same intended venom lashing a banishment back to something more third world, a place that could validate the supremacy, invariably white, of the banshee banisher. That’s probably why I don’t think I heard that line once in the three years I was in school there. I’m not sure I heard it much in college, either, because not a single one of us could claim to be from Greenwich Village, where we were attending school, and so couldn’t launch the slur with a straight face.

A pattern emerged. The more the people around me were from somewhere else, the less that line seemed to have currency. Then the further I moved south over the years–North Carolina, West Virginia, Florida–the more the line came back. North Carolinians and West Virginians had an excuse: their roots at least went back to a few forebears six feet under, and West Virginians especially had the same experience with outsiders as anyone who’s been colonized, demeaned, exploited, raped and left for non-existent.

Click On:


But what’s Floridians’ excuse, aside from New Yorkers’ residual driving habits? Every time I write a column now, there’s always a good number of people feel entitled to tell me to go back where I came from, their local ancestry–in this town of ours not older than bell bottoms–somehow dating back to Jurassic squares on their calendars, though the line is becoming a knee-jerk response from a number of commenters against anything they don’t like infringing on their notion of what their precious town should be like. You’ll see it on stories about recycling, crime, art in Town Center, fireworks–whatever. (Actually, you won’t: the rule at FlaglerLive is that any comment even hinting about telling someone to go back where they came from is held back. You don’t get to make that call. Not here.)

In my case I’m sure what these people mean as often as not when they tell me to go back where I came from, since few really know more geography than the whereabouts of their TV remote, is that I should go back to the P Section. It’s just as well. It’s home, and by definition, right now, it’s where I come from. I can’t think of a more sacred property right. Everything else is ancestry, whether I lived it decades ago in another country or whether my monkey ancestors lived it in East Africa a few million years ago (though in fairness to Africa, Florida was one of its ribs, tectonically exiled 500 million years ago. So you see, we’re still all Africans).

Put another way: the guy who’s lived here 50 years, or who traces his lineage to the scurvy of the Mayflower, doesn’t have any more right to call the place home than does the neighbor who moved in yesterday, no matter where from. He doesn’t have more vested rights of any kind, not even political rights: unlike the U.S. Constitution’s minimums for the presidency (the natural-born provision is a vestige of the document’s more racist xenophobias, and its age requirement an outdated gift to the decrepit), a local resident has no minimum-time requirements to qualify for a local office, assuming citizenship is a given. A driver’s license indicating local residency is enough, as it should be. None of us is without an ancestry that would make us all aliens, even to ourselves, but for the place we choose to call home, here, today, wherever our here happens to be.

We’re a movable feast of a nation. Our political freedoms should reflect it, and do, because we’re all carpetbaggers in America going back to the original ones who crossed over the Bering Strait, and they’d been carpetbagging since Kenya. Our neighborliness should reflect the fact, too, though it does so less these days for an angry, scared and needlessly embittered demographic generally defined by its paler memories of an America that never was, and, we should hope for all our sakes, never will be.

Pierre Tristam is FlaglerLive’s editor. Reach him by email here or follow him @PierreTristam. A version of this piece aired on WNZF.


39 Responses for “Go Back Where You Came From”

  1. Mark says:

    Does that mean we are all African-Americans?

  2. palmcoaster says:

    “Go back were you came from” sounds and looks really crass, ignorant, vulgar and even funny line used by bullies that do not realize they are directing it also themselves as the only ones that can’t go were they came from, right here, are our proud Native American Nations as are the only real natives in USA soil. All others came from elsewhere.

  3. Merrill S Shapiro says:

    Great piece, well put! Woodie Guthrie knew about this piece, decades before it was written! That’s why, in April 1944, he wrote:
    This land is your land, this land is my land
    From the California to the New York island
    From the Redwood Forest, to the gulf stream waters
    This land was made for you and me
    As I went walking that ribbon of highway
    I saw above me that endless skyway
    And saw below me that golden valley
    This land was made for you and me
    I roamed and rambled and I followed my footsteps
    To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
    And all around me , a voice was sounding
    This land was made for you and me
    When the sun comes shining, then I was strolling
    In the wheat fields waving and dust clouds rolling
    The voice was chanting as the fog was lifting
    This land was made for you and me

  4. I agree says:

    You very elequently put into words my exact sentiments and very similar story! Thank you.

  5. Larry says:

    Do us all a big favor. YOU stay here, and we all will leave and go back from where we came from. How about that Lebanese boy ?

  6. Yellowstone says:

    Anyone ever hear “If you love New York then take I 95 north”?

  7. Rick Stevens says:

    Nice, Pierre. I’m guilty, like each of us, but chuckling after reading this. Most of us are short of sight about such things, right? Thanks for the reminder and the admonishment. Now go back where you came from.

  8. Alphonse Abonte says:

    Here is the actual tweet that started the conversation.

    “So interesting to see “Progressive” Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly……

    5:27 AM – 14 Jul 2019

    and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how….

    5:27 AM – 14 Jul 2019

    it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”

    Never named ANYONE, but they knew who they were. All of media, including this so called ” news source” leaving out the context of the message. This “SQUAD” has said more treasonous statements and spewed more hate that Trump. Now AOC PLUS THREE will show America the direction of the Democratic party. Trump did not bring division,division brought Trump. If you do not see that, then you are part of the problem.
    FlaglerLive please TRY to report the ACTUAL news, not just what you see to cause division.

  9. Willy Boy says:

    Long before the Civil War, in 1854, Lincoln addressed his own solution to slavery at a speech delivered in Peoria, Illinois: “I should not know what to do as to the existing institution [of slavery]. My first impulse would be to free all the slaves, and send them to Liberia, to their own native land.”

  10. Edith Campins says:

    Thank you Pierre. Well said, as always.

  11. Outside Looking Out says:

    Thank you, Mr Tristam for a well written and meaningful article. I have read it twice and will probably read it again, a sure sign by me that I enjoyed it. Please have a pleasant day.

  12. Penny Suarez says:

    I’ve heard it and I’ve said it. To me it’s more about if a person doesn’t like how it is here and came from another place, and they complain about this place, then they should probably stop complaining or they can choose to go back. Everyone loves to trash talk PC and even FL but it’s nice here, and probably way nicer than where we came from. Some people are against anyone new coming here, no matter where the new people are from. Time to get over our collective selves and be better people. We are all human, but we act like animals, some of us act like wild animals. If a baby was left on your doorstep you wouldn’t close your door and lock it. Think about that.

  13. marlee says:

    Merrill S Shapiro
    Thank you!…..this is the perfect response…it should be our National Anthem.

  14. Sherry says:

    Pierre, thank you again for your wonderful words from your own personal experience. Hopefully they will pry open some minds and hearts, just a tiny bit.

    Again. . . to those bashing “the squad” . . .you know, those 4 women of color, who are American Citizens . . . duly elected (without the help of Russia) Representatives to Congress. . . Please cite the “credible” source “in complete context” of their “treasonous” words. I would appreciate some accurate FACTS to prove your point. Otherwise. . . it’s just the usual divisive right winged blah, blah blah!

  15. MrsRob says:

    Well written article Pierre. Unfortunately some people will never understand the message.

  16. Sherry says:

    Dear Commenters,

    It’s quite simple. . . IF you do not want to be thought of as “Racists”, then STOP making “Racist” statements! You know who you are. . . FACTS are not your friends. Awwwwwwww

  17. David T Schaefer says:

    Thanks Flagler Live for a great article. This is to Trump and his family hop on a ship and for the sake of this country please GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM…….

  18. What else is new says:

    We Flaglerlive readers are fortunate you chose to live here. We thank you for your brilliant, insightful editorials, and we hope you never choose to go back to any other places you’ve lived.

  19. Percy's mother says:

    Sherry

    What’s a racist?

    And please no, “Well, if you don’t know what a racist is . . .”

    The term “racist” is a very convenient term used these days to silence anyone who doesn’t agree with the prevailing negativity from the left. If you’ll go to your nearest public library and pick up Alinsky’s book, you’ll see how this particular word is being used to silence and put down any dissenter that doesn’t go along with party lines.

    So again, in your own words, define the word “racist”.

    And now for my story as a LEGAL immigrant, not only to this country but others. . .

  20. Richard says:

    I agree Pierre, that phrase has been used for centuries by people from all walks of life, regions, countries, etc. However, like anything else people are now making it POLITICAL. And, of course, Trump gets blamed for anything and everything. But guess what? He has very broad shoulders and can take the heat versus some of the pussy politicians we have in office today.Maybe those “people” should take up a different career where the admonishments aren’t as telling and their egos can flourish. Oh, by the way, the term “racist” has been used SO much these days by the left that it now has no meaning at all as it is just another useless word in their narrative.

  21. Michael Cocchiola says:

    Very well said, Pierre. We know that “go back to where you came from” is an irrational racist threat against all people of color, of non-Western European ancestry, of those who might agree with “The Squad”. These words have now become a white supremacist war cry.

  22. Percy's mother says:

    So a story about being an immigrant . . .

    I remember my mother telling the story about when she and my father were first in Australia. You see, like so many other Europeans at the end of WWII, they wanted to leave the emotional trauma and physical destruction behind and seek something new such that perhaps they would have a better life. So my mother said she arrived in Australia full of excitement only to find a terribly backwards and somewhat primitive life (at that time). She was standing at a bus stop one day and said something negative (“complained” in some people’s vocabulary) about perhaps the bus service or something else. WELL, Australians DO NOT take well to any criticism of Australia. She was bluntly told in no uncertain terms, “Well, if you don’t like it MATE, GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM!!!!!!”. She never forgot that. AND, she was British (Australia is still I believe a Commenwealth nation).

    So, instance #1 of “GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM”. (shockingly this goes on in all countries, not just this “racist” country called the USA).

    The above-noted term, “Go back where you came from”, isn’t singular to the USA, which the left now likes to call a RACIST nation.

    So, we finally left Australia and moved to the suburbs of London, as my father wanted to be closer to his family in Europe. (At the time, Australia was a long, long way away, and out of reach financially for anyone to travel back and forth for family purposes).

    Arriving in the UK (it was called England at the time), we encountered culture shock. New culture. New slang. New way of dealing with things totally unlike the rough and ready way of life in Australia AND THE “IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT MATE, GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM!!!!!!!!!!!”.

    So as new (LEGAL, BY THE WAY) immigrants to England, we had to adjust, learn the slang, learn the new way to deal with life things (AND WE WERE FROM A COMMENWEALTH NATION, so it wasn’t like we were totally foreign to a certain way of dealing with things).

    More, “GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM (but without the Australian “IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT MATE”. . .

    So as children, we adjusted. The Australian accent was an anomaly in England, so it meant starting to refine the way we spoke so we didn’t STAND OUT. It meant starting to lose the Australian identity in order to blend in so we wouldn’t stand out and be made fun of.

    THEN after a time, my father decided he wanted to “GO TO AMERICA”. After LEGALLY going through the process, the medical testing, the x-rays, the background checks, etc., AND HAVING A FINANCIAL SPONSOR WHICH WAS REQUIRED AT THE TIME, we ended up in NYC. CULTURE SHOCK X1000. I cried every day. I hated it. I used to sit in school every day crying, crying, crying. We had gone from a commenwealth country which was somewhat similar to life in Australia to a foreign land where everything was in your face. It was loud. It was rude. As a sensitive child, it was too much for me. PLUS, again the language issue. “What did you say?”. “What?””WHAT DID YOU SAY????” Laughter. Snickering. Again, it meant losing more of the accent in order to NOT STAND OUT so as to be ale to fit in. So as not to be made fun of. It meant losing more of the original identity. AND my father was laughed at, made fun of, ostracized due to his European accent which apparently meant he was stupid (even though he was a very brilliant man).

    I could go on and on about where we ended up after NYC, but the story is similar to Pierre’s story.

    Along the way, I learned some things, and that is that when you are “different” . . . i.e., different accent or any accent for that matter, different customs, different way of dealing with things, different family structure, different religion . . . when you are in another country you STAND OUT and you are sometimes looked at with suspicion. It’s part of the immigrant story and it’s happened to US ALL.

    HOWEVER, HOWEVER, HOWEVER . . . when we came into this country LEGALLY there was no safety net. There was no welfare. There was NO VOTING RIGHTS. We were REQUIRED to fill out a little card every January from the Immigration Service so they could keep track of where we were in the country. NOT LIKE NOW, when people just waltz over the border and expect to be taken care off and feel they have RIGHTS. No free housing. No free healthcare. No subsidy of any kind. We were allowed immigration status and that’s it. We were on our own, save for our sponsor who helped us in NYC until my father was able to find a job elsewhere and then we moved on WITHOUT a car, WITHOUT furniture, WITHOUT a financial safety net, WITHOUT knowing the customs, WITHOUT knowing the way things worked in this country. We walked everywhere. We had come in with only the clothes on our backs. I had flip flops and that’s it. We lived on the floor until people took pity on us and would give us a lamp or a chair or an old tiny dining table (which my older sister still has to this day). And we still walked for miles and miles every time we had to get food or get registered for school or for anything else . . . walked, walked, walked.

    The life of ANY immigrant is HARD. But those who came in before without any safety net had to find the wherewithal from WITHIN to survive and that made us all much stronger people.

    Now working in a hospital, I see how the Illegals are gaming the system. I see the paperwork. They are illegal. 99.9% of them are on government assistance. They’ve been coached to say the right things to get 100% government assistance. AND THAT IS WHAT PEOPLE ARE MAD ABOUT.

    It’s the way this new wave of ILLEGALS is gaming the financial resources of this country. You people out there just listen to your leftward leaning CNN and other “news” shows and that’s all you know, but I see what’s really happening because I see how the healthcare system is being completely drained by this new wave of ILLEGAL aliens coming in. They’re all on Medicaid. They’re all on food stamps. They all get govt subsidies for housing. Etc Etc. This is in the process of destroying the healthcare system as well as the financial resources for those of us who have worked hard to get hopefully some govt assistance in our old age. Guess what? It’s not going to be there for us when we’ve worked hard all our lives for it.

    Sherry likes to use the term “Racist” when she doesn’t have a clue what’s really going on in the world. Is she a legal immigrant? Has she had any type of immigrant experience? Does she work in a healthcare setting to see how the system is being drained by 99.9% of the people who come in who DON’T WORK and get full government assistance? The comments, and her comments in particular make me want to vomit.

    People, turn off the TV for God’s sake. Stop watching the propaganda on TV and get out and learn about REAL LIFE, not the party line that “they” want you to think is the truth. For God’s sake before it’s too late.

    Frankly, I’m sick and tied of people like Sherry posting hysterical comments about how bad capitalism is and how racist this country is and how racist this and that . . . when its all just mouthing and spouting a certain indoctrination. Sherry dear, when you’ve had my immigrant experience, then maybe you can talk about it. Go and get David Lean’s “Dr. Zhivago” (1965) to see how things can end up. AND, if you don’t like living in a capitalist society, and think capitalism is so bad, feel free to go and live in one of the countries everyone is fleeing. How about Venezuela Sherry if its so bad here?

  23. Lnzc says:

    President got it right
    If you don’t like it here go where you came from

  24. Trailer Bob says:

    The more you talk about race, the more we talk about race, etc etc. I could care less where anyone comes from. My concern is bad people coming here illegally. There is a process to entering any country, and that is the point most of us are speaking of. Some of you apparently feel it is ok to come to this country illegally and break all the laws the rest of us should be living with. I am far from a racist, doesn’t mean that I (like the author) think bad people with bad intentions should be coming here illegally and we should all feel that is OK, or we are racists.

  25. Q says:

    If you marry your brother for immigration purposes, you will go back where you came from…or GITMO

  26. Spike 65 says:

    Percy’s Mother, are you suggesting that “racism” has no proper definition? Racism is the belief that the appearance groups we have been conditioned to perceive have different deep biological differences that create different mental and cultural capabilities.

  27. Dave says:

    Here is a fact: if you find yourself in support of the current president Donald Trump, you are doing one of two things, 1. You are supporting a racist l, or l, 2. You are a racist. Now if you dont like to hear this then maybe you should take a look at yourself and your actions and your beliefs. It is the 1st step to come to a realization that you are in the wrong , we will support you in your journey to become a productive member of our immigrant society but you must admit you have a problem before the rest of us can help you fix it.

  28. Pogo says:

    @Sherry (and Pierre too)

    You have well and truly afflicted trump’s local fascists, racists, and lickspittle. Well done.

    As for the men in power, they are so anxious to establish the myth of infallibility that they do their utmost to ignore truth.
    – Boris Pasternak

  29. Heading North says:

    I almost hate to say this, but I agree with Pierre this time.
    I do not use the term “go back where you came from”, I prefer “if you’re not happy here, go somewhere else.”
    It would seem that works for any situation, doesn’t it????

  30. Born and Raised Here says:

    Floridians are always telling Northerners to go back to where they came from.

  31. TheTruth says:

    No one should ever be told to go back to their country. This is racist, and hateful that Donald Trump enjoys spreading. He forgets where his Mother was born, where his wife came from. He insults anyone in his path that doesn’t agree with him.
    It is a disgrace that the world has to hear the President of the USA saying racists comments.
    Those who spread evil, hate, racists beliefs are the ones that have no business being in our country which, has always been called the land of opportunity for all.
    Thank you Pierre for writing this article.

  32. Trump Supporter says:

    How is it Pierre you publish this hate filled comment? I am disgusted!! I AM A PROUD Trump supporter, am not racist, and neither is he!!! Sounds to me Dave, before you throw that rock, look at your own glass house before you judge others and take a predetermined opinion of them based on BS. Hint hint stop drinking the kool aid the msm/Hollywood is feeding you!!!

  33. Randy Jones says:

    “we’re all carpetbaggers” – Micanopy, Chief of the Seminole, would challenge you on that one Pierre.

  34. palmcoaster says:

    Immigrants (that are so proud Trump supporters on his goal to spread hate for illegals) are ignorant of the fact that they “were allowed” to become an immigrant when they applied and these illegals are never allowed! The doors of America are shut for them south of the border when they apply and that is why they cross illegally to work here the lowest paid and hardest jobs.
    If we had organized temporary work permits solicited by farm owners and for other difficult to fulfill labor occupations, these so called illegals now will go back home after their work done and paid for. Also we will stop consuming and paying for the drugs that generates so much killing south of the border then these “illegals ” will stop coming here for asylum.

  35. Sherry says:

    Simply pointing out that there is racism all over the world does NOT make racism OK! Anymore than saying that murder and rape is OK because it happens in other countries also.

    If you are NOT a racist, you will not be offended by my remarks because “I” am not naming anyone specifically. “I” am not the one who is “hysterical”.

    My “illegal” immigrant ancestors came to these shores from England in the early 1600s. They were governors, slave owners, captured by American Natives (and became a princess), the first person to sail around the world alone, and a general in the Civil War. . . etc. etc.

    I have actually lived all over the world, including some HAPPY “Democratic Socialist” countries in Europe like Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Other countries include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, France, England, Ireland, Costa Rica, Guadeloupe, Guatemala, The netherlands, etc. etc.

    I have been the only woman on several boards of directors, and gone to Washington DC multiple times to personally meet with several Congressional representatives, in a professional capacity.

    Therefore, calling me out and assuming that I know nothing about the world is merely a sad reflection of one’s own insecurities. Awwwww!

  36. Outside Looking Out says:

    @ Percy’s Mother
    Thank you dear lady for sharing your story. I’m sure writing it had to have brought up some memories you’d rather not think about. It is stories such as yours and Mr Tristam’s that represent true immigrants that have come to this country to better themselves and in return better the country.
    I refuse to think of the people who, as you said, are strolling across the border as immigrants. They are what they are and that is ILLEGAL aliens. People who are only here to better themselves with no thought as to bettering a country who stupidly cares for them. They do not hesitate to raise the flag of the country they came from and stomping on the flag of the United States.
    John Kennedy (the last Democrat that was worth a damn) said, “Ask not, what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.” These words have no meaning for the thousands of illegals that continue to inundate our once great country. They are only here to take and people such as the “squad” are happy to give with no regard as to how it is affecting the country, not one thought about where the money comes from and no empathy for the legal people of this country. After all, we are all immigrants and descendants of immigrants to this country, some earlier than others but LEGAL. If we all followed the advice of “Go back where you came from”, the only people left would be native American Indians and I doubt they would call themselves Americans.

  37. Percy's Mother supporter says:

    You couldn’t have said it any better Percy’s mother. Proud to have you in this country.

  38. American Girl says:

    The reason people say go back where you came from is because people come here and criticize America. Why would you move here and decry the very lifestyle you are seeking? Why change America? If things were so wonderful where you are from, go back there. And that is where this phraseology comes into play.

  39. Fredrick says:

    Good read Pierre. Not sure how I missed this one but on this one we can agree for the most part. Let’s not let this happen again.

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