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How It Feels to Be a First Generation Muslim-American in Trump's America

Spring.St logo Spring.St 2/05/2017 Fahima Chowdhury
How It Feels to Be a First Generation Muslim-American in Trump's America. © Spring St How It Feels to Be a First Generation Muslim-American in Trump's America.

Being a first generation American feels like a blessing and a curse. I'm always reminded by my immigrant-turned-citizen parents that "America is the best country in the world" but that's not the America I have grown up to witness.

In fact, I fear that it is becoming quite the opposite.

Muslims around the world, and especially Muslim-Americans, are aware that there always are going to be people who are ignorant or misinformed about our beliefs and "motives" for living in America.

But the simple truth is that Muslims come to America for the same reasons as anyone else—for freedom. This is the land of opportunity and we want a chance to build a better life like everyone else.

But with the current President in office, Muslims around the world may have to put such aspirations on hold.

"So what are you?"

Like most immigrants, my parents came to America for a better life for themselves and the family they hoped to have. It was a huge challenge, choosing to raise kids in the West when all they knew was their Eastern Asian culture.

As a child, my siblings and I grew up on Full House and my mom's favorite South Asian soap operas. We attended public school during the week and Islamic school on the weekends. We grew up with people of all races and religions and didn't know what made us different besides our appearances.

And then 9/11 happened.

I was nine. At a very young age, I was forced to realize that I was different, that I'm not considered "100 percent American" because of my faith and the way I look, even though I was born here.

Upon meeting new people, I'm often asked "So what are you? Where are you from?"

No one is satisfied when I reply, "I'm from Queens, New York."

At home, understanding what was acceptable versus unacceptable was tough—like the fact that my family only ate halal meat, so I never ate the meat at school or when I went over to a non-Muslim friend's house.

As I got older, my parents got stricter: no bare arms or legs, no dating boys or really, even having guy friends (although, let's be real now, I was barely allowed to hang out with girlfriends.)

My parents were strict, but not unusual. I've found that a lot of immigrant Muslim parents don't want their kids to associate with non-Muslims for fear they might become "too American" or steer too far from Islam.

Anisa Choudhury, 30, a compliance specialist for One Jeanswear Group in New York City, had a similar experience, growing up in a strict Bengali-Muslim household. Also a first-generation kid, Choudhury said one of her biggest issues included finding ways to communicate with her overprotective parents.

"As a child, they weren't as open and social with me mixing with friends of other cultures," she says. "They felt more at ease if my friends who came over our house were of the same race and religion."

"Please don't be a Muslim."

This is not to say that our parents weren't open to other cultures; they were just afraid.

Yes, they had traveled across the world to an unknown place with an uncertain future, so I'm sure they aren't afraid to mesh with other people. But still, some felt intimidated and fearful of rejection once they got here.

I was afraid of rejection, too. There were times after 9/11 that I wouldn’t even admit that I was a Muslim—which is probably just what my parents feared might happen.

But how was I suppose to feel? Every time I saw the news of another terrorist attack, my first thought was always, Please don't let it be a Muslim who's responsible for this.

It almost always was.

As I got older, I educated myself more about the true principles of Islam and now I'm not afraid nor ashamed to say that I am a Muslim. Not only do I have a newfound respect for my religion, but I feel the responsibility to share what I've learned in a way that my peers can understand.

Growing up post 9/11, I thought it would only be a matter of time before everyone moved on from blaming all the evil in the world on Muslims.

But now I realize we still have a long way to go.

When the 2016 Presidential campaign began and Donald Trump stood as a candidate, I took it as a joke. But as the campaign went on, the jokes subsided and fear settled in. His whole campaign was hateful, exclusive and fear-mongering for anyone not white or male.

The scariest part of it all? Seeing how many Americans stood with his ideals. It's a horrible feeling to think my fellow Americans have this built up resentment towards us. But even worse, that they now felt comfortable going public with it once Trump began voicing their feelings.

As Choudhury puts it, "people really did come out of the woodwork."

"Every single person now knows what Islam is."

As first generation Muslim-Americans, we have the reassurance that we can hold our own if need be.

But we fear for our family and friends of older and younger generations. We fear that our elders may not be able to defend themselves if ever under attack. We fear that the generations to come won't be able to embrace their Muslim culture out of fear of rejection.

Ambrin Hasan, 30, is a financial consultant who lives in Leesburg, Virginia. She is a practicing Muslim and chooses not to wear the hijab but fears for her friends and family members who do.

"I have heard about so many hate crimes against our Muslim community. My mother has been subjected to this kind of behavior," she says, noting that her mother, a hijabi, was once pulled over by police officers and asked to remove prayer beads from her rear view mirror.

"What's sad is knowing that there has always been hatred amongst us but after he got elected Americans feel like it's OK to insult other cultures and openly be racist," she says.

And while there is fear, there is also pride. Choudhury, for one, feels empowered: "There have been many protests of unity. Every single person now knows what Islam is," she says, pointing to the rise of Hijabis in sports, fashion and media. "It makes me proud to be an American-born Muslim woman and a Hijabi!"

Hasan, too, feels strongly about her Muslim identity, saying, "I defend my religion and faith more now than I ever have in my entire life."

"America is the best place in the world."

But that doesn't make everything better. As a first generation Muslim-American in Trump's America, I sometimes feel ashamed.

I feel ashamed to be in a country that elected someone who proposes such hateful messages against diversity. I feel ashamed of people who chant "make America great again!"

America may have its faults, but it's always been great. Like my dad says, "America is the best place in the world."

Today I feel a heavy responsibility to represent Muslims. I want people to know that Islam is a religion dedicated to self-bettering and being a good person. Violence and hatred go against everything Islam stands for and I'm tired of it being misrepresented.

I'm tired of being a victim of prejudice in my own country.

Nothing will change if we sit silent and let negative propaganda take over. As Muslim-Americans, it's necessary for us to educate our non-Muslim peers and defend ourselves in a peaceful manner.

For the longest time, I had difficulties coming to grips with my identity. I didn't know if I was "American" enough or "Muslim" enough.

But now in this current political and social climate, I have no choice but to embrace both identities and claim them as equal parts of me.

I am a proud Muslim-American and I won't let the Trump presidency get in the way of my own American dream.

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