On February 19th, 2017, I attended the protest in Time Square, NYC, regarding the Muslim and immigration ban in 7 Muslim countries. I spent the day being silent. I had no words to describe how I felt or how I have been feeling overall lately. I learned that speaking before knowing what you exactly want to express or if you even want to express it, isn't even safe.
I grew up as a first born American, my parents were refugees when they had come to this country. They came here because the land they once loved was being destroyed and taken away from them. I do not know what they have witnessed or know what it was like for them to leave their homes. I do not know because I did not experience it myself. What I did experience was my parents constant fear, phobias, depression, PTSD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder.
After coming home from the protest, I decided to write a reflection on Facebook not knowing how else to express and share my experience:
I went to the Muslim Ban protest "I am a Muslim too" and silently protested the entire day. I heard inspirational Muslim Women and Men speak up about their feelings of Muslim attacks and accusations since 9/11. I stood there for three hours saying nothing but cried at times without wiping away the tears. I had flashbacks continuously from when I was young until now and remembered how my parents have struggled with discrimination over and over again.
I remember being questioned about being Muslim as a kid that made me question being Muslim myself. I remember my father telling my mother and I, we SHOULDN'T wear the hijab even if we wanted to. That if anyone assumes my ethnicity, I should let them think what they'd like. It was to keep our identities protected because no one would listen anyway. I grew up hearing my JHS bullies/friends make terrorist jokes, terrible jokes of not just Muslims but of all races including blacks to a friend who wasn't even black he was Guyanese... after three years the jokes became normalized to me.
I remember being young, at multiple hospitals and doctor's offices for my sister, (who has Mental Retardation Cynical Proses), when a doctor rejected to help my parents because they were from Afghanistan.
I remember even the way my Muslim friends acted when I was younger in school. Even they started to become 'Americanized' or 'whiten-ized' and soon became my bullies, not my friends. (Not that I am implying there is anything wrong with being white. However, everyone knows the movie mean girls. So that structured what it meant to be popular. Many girls at the time acted like those mean girls).
I remember growing up my mom told me my race was white. But, I wasn't blue-eyed or blonde in this countries definition of what I observed to be white. Although, the facts are my heritage is rooted from the Aryan race. No one listened to me, not even my best friend, who classified me as brown and asked another girl who was Bengali if I was considered brown. She had said yes, anyone from the Middle East is in the brown category. I explained using history, still, no one listened. Everywhere I went I felt excluded, rejected, and silenced.
I tried to be a good person and show people kindness, thoughtfulness, gratitude, love, and care, thinking maybe they'll see these acts of compassion and learn to do them as well. However, even I am guilty of learning behaviors that were unkind, selfish, greedy or egocentric that did not quickly appreciate or understand another person's form of compassion. Maybe I learned them or maybe that's just the nature of being an adolescent or just plain human for the most part.
The color of my skin, my faith, my parent's birthplace, should not matter nor anyone else's. It's true they say you learn the concept of race. I wasn't taught except through observations, jokes, and accusations made in society. I knew it was wrong when I heard it the first time, it only became normalized the next 100 times. Growing up I found myself being friends with those who looked completely different. Asian/Pacific, Black, African, Hispanic /Latino and some white friends too. I liked asking about what countries they were from (parents were from but at that age, I didn't know any better). I always asked about their heritage and holidays. I love meeting new people I love getting to know about their cultures I loved learning and making new connections. Yet in a country where that is possible.
We segregate ourselves and as someone who has always been stubborn in her own ways. I refuse to be part of any classification or group to the point that I don't tell people I am Muslim. My father has conformed me to just say you believe and trust all faiths, which is true. I do not see a difference in religions or faiths. They all speak the same message. It is the people that are different.
The last thing I want to say is: in the words of a friend who said this to me; watch yourself. Watch how you affect others by what you say and how you act. Become conscious of how you are coming off to the person before you speak or act. Sometimes your intentions are one thing but your actions say another thing. I encourage everyone to talk to each other, come together, listen to one another. But the first step is to realize your own position. That may be taken in the context of personal matters or of when you're doing your job handling business or relations with customers. Everywhere you go, whomever you are with, be aware of what you say and do around them. Be considerate, be compassionate, be understanding, be kind...please. Try putting yourself in that person's shoes.
Going to the protest, I felt like people did care, and seeing these empowering Muslim women and men speak up to express themselves proudly without fear. I am glad that someone found a way to live out of fear and anxiety. Something I used to be able to control (Or so I thought). What people say, what people do, it affects other people. It is real. This is real. People, families of all races, religions, labels, and social economic status are affected. This anxiety, depression, and fear that is surrounding us are not easy to get out of. It's like telling homeless people to stop being homeless.
Sometimes people who are being affected by the chaos do not know or have not figured out directly what is the root of their disorder. Not everyone has health care anymore. Not many people think they need help. Most of the time our brains do such a good job at creating defense mechanisms of trying to hide the root of the problem but cannot hide the body and emotional responses. Until one day the memories start to attack with the emotional and physical responses and at that point, you do not know where to run because how can you run away from yourself?
If you see someone sad, talk to them if you have the free time. Or if you are in a rush like how I usually am, find something to compliment them on, make their day. Distract them for a moment and make them feel good about themselves and acknowledged. If you witness someone upset or they even start to tell you how feel or what's wrong, listen thoroughly with an open mind, try to understand why they feel the way they feel, ask them questions not just for your own better understanding of how to possibly help them but how they can dig in deeper within themselves to discover what they actually need address. Maybe even getting help, even if it is scary to have someone put a label of a 'mental disorder' on you, in the end, they will help you take that 'label' off.
Take care of yourselves,