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Taxicab Confessions: 2016 Election Edition

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 30/03/2016 Capri S. Cafaro

When you enter a New York cab, the first rule is to expect the unexpected. A cacophony of sounds and often smells, paired with an interesting driver, the yellow cab can take you much farther than LaGuardia, which is where I was headed this particularly sunny Thursday morning.
The driver politely asked me if I had a preferred way to get to the airport. "Triboro Bridge" I said as we sat in gridlock traffic on 59th St. This simple exchange started an hour long conversation that served as a window into the 21st century American immigrant experience, and its potential impact on the 2016 presidential election.
Soon my cab driver was looking for quicker ways to get to LaGuardia. Somewhere around Park Ave, he asked me "what do you do for a living?" A benign enough question suitable for idle small talk, that is if your answer is not "I work in government."
I am a state senator from Northeastern Ohio. My cab driver is a Bangladeshi Muslim, a fact that I did not know when he responded, "so you work in government, do you? Please don't try to arrest me."
I could tell this was his attempt at an awkward joke and made me wonder if the man was Muslim given the recent uptick in fear and xenophobia fueled by an uncertain world. Yes, the man was brown and had an accent. Yes, he drove a cab, but I never assumed he was a Muslim and certainly did not fear him as a possible terrorist. But his comment made it clear to me that foreign men of color assume they are perceived as terrorists. A tragic, yet all-too-real fact of American sentiments in 2016.
The cabbie proceeded to feel me out, asking my party affiliation. Once he heard I was a Democrat, he opened up. "Well, we can talk, then. I'm a Democrat too." Traffic was at a standstill, but time was flying as we exchanged observations on everything from Obamacare to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. He finally shared that he was indeed a Muslim, from Bangladesh and now proud American citizen. The man may not be traditionally educated, but seemed more knowledgeable in global affairs than some of my college-educated friends.
He reflected on his first time voting for an American president in 2008, waiting in long lines to cast his ballot in New York. He mused about immigration's impact on the American job market and boldly said to me, "you tell anyone who thinks we are taking jobs away from white male Americas, they can wait on a New York corner until a white guy driving in a cab picks them up." The conclusion being, immigrants have jobs other Americans do not necessarily want or do especially in major metropolitan areas.
He continued with a story about a friend of his, another Bangladeshi, who also drives a cab. "My friend, he drives a cab. He speaks English with an accent. His son, he is a nurse at NYU hospital. He speaks English with no accent. At some point, we don't have an accent anymore. What do you call that? A son doing better than his father? Speaking English without an accent? It's the American Dream. It' s why we are here. It's why I love being an American."
Yes, a Muslim from Bangladesh is an American. No different than my great grandparents from Italy and Ukraine were American. This is the real voice of Muslim America. Hard working ad patriotic Americans.
Like many other Americans, he is engrossed in the 2016 presidential race. "I'm campaigning for Hillary from the front seat of my cab. We have to elect a Democrat as president to keep from going backwards in America."
I couldn't agree more.
Capri S. Cafaro is a Democratic state senator in Ohio's 32nd district encompassing counties in Northeastern Ohio. She served as Ohio Senate Minority Leader from 2009-2012.

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