Mus­lim teen has never felt more Amer­i­can than dur­ing Trump’s rise

The Hamilton Spectator - - LIVING - COLBY ITKOWITZ

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.”

COURTESY OF MALAK EL-AMRI

From left, Malak El-Amri, her brother, Mo­hamed, and father, Abubaker Amri.

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