Muslim teen has never felt more American than during Trump’s rise
On the evening of U.S. President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Malak El-Amri and her siblings received a text from their father.
Abubaker Amri, a Muslim immigrant from Libya, had returned from work to find a handwritten card in his mailbox.
It would still be another week before the new president would announce his ban on migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Amri’s. But many Muslim families were already unnerved by the rise of Islamophobia during the campaign and feared what was to come.
So Amri hoped his children would find some comfort in the words he found waiting for him on Jan. 20: “Dear Neighbours, “Today begins a new stage for our country. No matter what happens, please know there are still a lot of people who will fight for your right to practise your religion, to continue your lives without discrimination. You are welcome in our neighbourhood and if you need anything — please knock on our door.”
For El-Amri, a 19-year-old sophomore at the University of Kentucky, the note left for her father from a family in his Cincinnati neighbourhood affirmed what she’d felt throughout the campaign.
She grew up in Lexington, Ky., in a post-9/ 11 world, where she often felt like an outsider, she said. She wears a hijab and kids taunted her, calling her “Osama bin Laden’s daughter.” But in the last year, with the treatment of Muslims a flash point of the presidential campaign, she had never felt more accepted, she said. More than ever in her life, people smiled at her like they were making an extra effort to be kinder, to be warmer, to let her know they supported her.
“I’ve never felt more welcome or more American than during Trump’s rise,” she said. “It was really nice to get this letter and know people are out there and want us to stay here. It’s just as much our America as it is theirs.”
Her father, now 65, moved to the U.S. from Libya as a student in 1978. Yet ever since Trump’s election, he’d felt unsettled about the country he’d lived in for four decades, where he has raised a family and started his own small business.
He doesn’t know the neighbours who left the note very well; they wave and offer a warm hello when they see each other. But their note felt to him like “when you’re sleeping and someone wakes you up from the dream,” he said. The people around him recognized the changes coming and they cared.
In just a week, thousands of people would pour into airport terminals and city streets and in front of the White House to protest the Trump administration’s travel ban to show they care, too. Their voices are louder than those who are hateful.
“I see them at the airports now, it’s not just my neighbours, it’s a lot of neighbours,” Amri said.
“It tells me that people are not passive. They see it not as a plight for Muslims, but a plight for the country itself.”
When Amri sent the text of the card to his children, his son responded and asked his father if he was afraid of Trump.
“No,” Amri wrote back. “Because this (letter) proves there are good people all around us.”
From left, Malak El-Amri, her brother, Mohamed, and father, Abubaker Amri.