Elon prof says racism forcing her family from US
Posted May 4
Elon, N.C. — An Elon University professor says repeated racism against her husband has pushed her family to the breaking point, so they're packing up and leaving the country.
Robin Attas, an assistant professor of music, said Thursday that she has enjoyed her work at Elon, but life off campus has become unbearable for her and her husband, Nicolás Narváez, a native of Nicaragua.
Attas recalled the time Narváez was in the front yard of the couple's Burlington home with their two young children when someone driving by hurled racial epithets and a bottle at him. An artist, Narváez has also been stopped by police for no reason and has been treated so poorly in the community, his wife said, that he doesn't want to run errands such as going to the grocery store or the post office anymore.
"We just need to be somewhere else where we can feel comfortable and happy and safe," she said.
The racism has taken an emotional toll on Narváez, Attas said.
"I see he’s not the person that he was four years ago, so there’s that where I feel like, the longer we stay here, the less of a chance I have of getting him back," she said. "For me, it’s a choice between my husband and my job, and I would rather have my husband."
The couple plans to close on the sale of their house at the end of the month and head to Canada, where they will live with Attas' parents in Winnipeg, Manitoba, until she can find a job.
Explaining the move to their 5-year-old son was difficult, she said.
"We’ve told him that we’re leaving because people here don’t treat papa nicely because of the way that he looks," she said. "He’s processing that, which is amazing, I’m so proud of him and so sad that he has to process it."
Attas said she feels that the racial attitudes her family has seen in North Carolina go beyond President Donald Trump's anti-immigrant rhetoric, calling it "a systemic, society-level problem" in the U.S.
By sharing her family's story, she said she hopes to encourage Canadians to be even more welcoming of immigrants.
"We’re so lucky and privileged that I have a stable job, that we have residency in the U.S., that we have enough money and family where we can go to another place where we’ll feel more comfortable," she said. "But I just think of all the people in this country who don’t have that."
Attas and Narváez are both Canadian citizens. Despite having U.S. green cards, she said, they will never move back here.
"I’m so sad to be leaving some really great colleagues," she said, "but I’m so excited to be going home. This has never felt like home."