Not Ours. U.S. Land Ownership Leaves Out Asian Americans | Opinion

My Indian parents immigrated to the United States in 1992 after working in Qatar, Oman and India. None of the countries they immigrated to made them a citizen. None of the countries they lived in were where they wanted their children to be citizens.

This changed in 2000 when our family of four became naturalized citizens of the U.S.

Like many before us, my parents valued land as a form of inheritance. They also fell in love with the gentle rolling hills of East Texas. In late 2020, my parents started searching for freedom from COVID-19 by looking for land to purchase. Like many children of immigrants, I helped navigate the new land for my parents.

They found just what they were looking for—a family farm was selling a portion of their land and one of their homes. The homes sat adjacent to each other but an acre away. Through the realtor, my parents excitedly submitted a cash offer well above the appraisal value. It was one lump sum that would be in the seller's bank account by the end of the week.

Without explanation, the seller declined the offer through the realtor via phone call. There was no negotiation, no term change. It was just, "No, thanks."

As I discussed the decision with the real estate agent, one thing that stood out was my parents' very Indian names. Who this family wanted as a neighbor, as a landowner in their America, I realized, was not an Indian family. The real estate agent and I discussed whose names should be on the next contract. We discussed finding sellers of color because they would likely sell to us.

It was a stunning affirmation that the place my family called home for decades did not want us to lay claim to the land.

Indian Americans were restricted from immigrating to the U.S. due to the Immigration Act of 1917 and the 1924 Immigration Act that restricted anyone born in the Asiatic Barred Zone. In 1965, the Immigration and Nationality Act passed, which overhauled the immigration system to allow Asians to settle. Since then, Asian Americans have been the fastest-growing racial or ethnic group in the U.S. The Asian population in the U.S. grew 81 percent between 2010-2019, from roughly 10.5 million to a record 18.9 million.

Less than 2 percent of American farmland is owned by individuals of color, compared to 98 percent for white people. Homeownership rates for Asian Americans hover around 60 percent, compared to 76 percent for white people. Prejudicial practices originating from systemic racism have discriminated against Asian Americans with redlining and racial covenants. But this "Not In My Backyard," or NIMBY-ism, comes at an individual level.

For sale
A real estate sign is pictured. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

For my family, carrying a citizenship card did not mean we didn't face racism that this country toiled—especially at the height of anti-Asian crime and post-9/11. When I was younger, my father told me about an incident of racism he experienced with a white man who told him that this land was not for us.

"It's the white man's land," he said.

For years I contemplated over that statement and what it meant for me. I too am an immigrant and naturalized citizen. I too yearn to see my motherland, to smell her, to witness her. But we both struggle to fully embrace each other. She recognizes me as an outsider who steps into her soil every few years.

If this land where I live is not mine and my motherland is not mine, where is my home?

The four years of the previous presidential administration drew this chasm of belonging wider. As the years progressed, I wondered more each day if this land is where I wanted to raise my children. Does this country value my blood as much as it values the blood of my white husband?

While I hoped the new Biden administration would ease my concerns, the spike in hate crimes against Asian Americans have made it a constant recurring thought. As Texas, my home state, like many other states looks to restrict voting, I see the past four years not as an aberration, but as a sign of the future.

In America, immigrants have always had to hide ourselves. We sit within our enclaves of churches, neighborhoods and associations. These places provide safe spaces for us to witness our motherland while providing us the tools to move through our current homeland.

For many, laying claim to this land is a process fraught with bias, discrimination and fear. I sit at the crossroads, waiting to feel like I'm home.

Nissy New is the chief operating officer at Metro Dallas Homeless Alliance and a Public Voices Fellow through The OpEd Project.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.