words by Ali Elabaddy
It's 2017, we're two weeks into a new presidency and Muslims are living in fear that their lives will mirror a similar fate to the Jewish people of Germany in 1941, or the Japanese Americans in 1942. In 9 short days, the progress of the past eight years, and possibly even further back, has already been severely reversed. "It's a hell of a last gasp for white supremacy," in the words of Jay Smooth. Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the highest office in the land was our country’s brutal history coming home to roost. Here we sit in fear, despair, and worry, about an administration hell bent on making sure that any sort of progress, or hope thereof, is diminished by signing away on the dotted line of a presidential executive order.
My parents came to this country in the mid-1970s, after a war that had decimated Egypt's economy and allowed military presidents to run monarchies that pass for "presidencies," weakening the economic standing and day to day lives of its people. They arrived to Minnesota, one a mechanical engineering professor, another in charge of payroll for a school district, to work jobs in blue collar factories and retail stores, to make a better life than the one in their mother country that was coming loose at every turn. My parents found a way. My birth in March of 1980 would come about 2 weeks shy of my parents being naturalized as American citizens.
I was too young then to realize what citizenship was, or what it entailed. However, considering the exhaustive process of having to absorb the collective knowledge of history, civics and the English language in five years time, showed the resolve and determination my parents had into making a better life for me. Being a citizen of America didn’t really hold much weight for me as an individual, especially seeing the little regard it had in terms of its treatment and meaning in society. As I grew older and started to understand more of what my existence meant in terms of being a resident of the United States, I grew more admiration and respect for my parents who sought to make a better life for all of us, a life that didn’t seem attainable from their motherland.
I never thought back then, that the same country that welcomed my parents with open arms, the country that claims to be a haven for "the tired, poor and huddled masses," would then vilify them thirty years later. You’d think that progress is natural, but there were, and still are, those who refuse to try and seek common ground. Starting the day after the inauguration, and more recently starting the very same night the President signed an executive order that acted as a de facto Muslim ban from seven countries, we have seen glimpses of the America that people once revered; an America that had masses driving to airports to demand a greater display of humanity and testify that they will not live in a country of exclusion.
We saw organizations that are in the throws of having their funding slashed severely, hit the ground running to advocate and fight for the disenfranchised and voiceless. In a lot of ways, the hope, resolve and need to be united and fighting together for the greater good was realized in the past couple of weeks. It is about the need to unite together to stamp out the ways of the past, and do so under the beacon of progress and prosperity for all, no matter where you originated from, what your racial makeup is, or who you love.
It's a jarring time to see both the waves of hope and despair, operating in a tug-of-war like manner. If we are indeed any semblance of the Americans that we imagine ourselves to be, that drove for progress with others kicking and screaming, we will continue speaking out, we will continue marching and being vocal to all our politicians, and we resolve, as Americans, to stand up for our neighbors, those who are here legally and even those who are here without the proper documents, trying to make the best of a bad situation.
While fully aware of America's violent past and present, we will bring America to its prosperous future. Buckle up, people, we're only just getting started. Be vocal, be charitable, and above all, be ready to confront some serious truths. I’d like to close with some lyrics from the Sudanese-American, Muslim rapper Oddisee’s song “Lifting Shadows.” It’s a song about those who our country and it’s new leader generalize, the people who they’ve never truly tried to understand, like my family, who came here 40 years ago contribute to the fabric of what America is, and what it can be.
"Isn’t that what you fear most? But fear don’t trump your needs
Our pros do trump our cons though. And cons don’t trump your greed
And monsters’ what you make of us and we make you succeed
And that’s what makes this country great, it’s built by those who bleed
It’s built by those who came on boats, it’s built by those who flee
And you forgot your family tree and we’re just all your leaves
So if you just try to chop us down you only hurt your knees
And we could go in pieces but we’d rather come in peace"