Samira Qureshi is the second-born daughter of Pakistani immigrants. She has lived in Canada, Bahrain and the United States, and dreams of taking her own kids to visit Pakistan to experience the rich history it has to offer. During the day, she is the paralegal in a boutique law firm developing healthcare compliance teaching materials. Nights and weekends, she is a mother to four children.
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Naturalized Canadian, American by birth, Muslim by faith, South Asian by ethnicity or “other” by standardized form standards. I piled all those identities onto my brown-girl shoulders through life. But there was one identity that I, and others, ignored. It was probably the most important identity – “Human by nature.” Remember that one, the one identity that we never seem to take the time to really see in each other?
Fast forward to 2016. Under all those layers I’ve clothed myself with through the years (some I’ve discarded, others I’ve doubled-up on) is a mother of four- an articulate, intelligent, thoughtful, religious and extremely liberal woman. Yes, there are probably other characteristics others can think of, but let’s not go there…
It was 2016. President Obama was leaving the White House, the Middle East had imploded, refugees were spilling over the world, Pakistan, the country my parents migrated from, had become a bastion for radicalized ideas and figures, and here, my country, the United States, was beginning to split from the seams. While Canada had elected a suave, worldly, feminist, open-minded heart-throb of a Prime Minister, America was taking the lead on perhaps one of the most tumultuous elections in its history. The world was going bat-shit crazy and we were leading the parade.
I had so many questions. More than confused, I was terrified…so I acted. I joined phone banks for Hillary. I had conversations with people at work about the repercussions of a problematic presidency, on American Muslims, on the environment, on healthcare, on women, etc. I posted articles upon articles on social media. But on November 8th, it didn’t matter. I had failed. My side lost.
I looked at my kids and didn’t know what to say. I could see a glimmer of fear in my teenagers’ eyes. I saw they needed someone to tell them that what was in the news, in our country and in our world, was not that big. That everything would be okay. They could return to their teenage ways including rolling their eyes. But I froze. The truth was, I couldn’t tell them any of this.
I couldn’t promise their safety and security. I couldn’t tell them to go back to business as usual. I couldn’t tell them some people distrusted them or even hated them because of their skin color or because of who they prayed to and in what they believed. I couldn’t tell them that America was morphing back to the time their grandparents had landed here. I couldn’t tell them that all they had to focus on was working hard in school and that happiness and success would come to them naturally. Instead, I had to tell them to be safe. I had to tell them to always be aware of their surroundings. I had to tell them to never engage with a group of people who swear and shout in their face “to go back where they came from,” (which happened to me this December in Ohio). I didn’t want to but I had to.
That night, we talked. And we hugged. I hugged them tight. Holding them, I was overwhelmed with that euphoria that sweeps over your body as you hold your newborn for the first time. And out came that mommy in me. My children would NOT live in fear in their own damn country. We would NOT keep our head down and make ourselves invisible for others. We would NOT “prove” our American-ness to ANYBODY in this country. WE would not be scared. We will keep fighting through protests, writing, signing petitions, calling our representatives, sharing posts on social media – we would make our voices, our thoughts, our beliefs, our values heard. We will keep fighting for anybody and everybody to be treated as humans because anything else is unacceptable. Because all the other layers we put on ourselves mean nothing if we can’t see the human layer in each other.
Today, the fight is on, in my house. It’s louder, sharper, stronger than ever. I think of my parents, arriving into 1967 America. My dad in Utah in the summer of 1967 – 2 years after the passing of the Civil Voting Rights Act and a little under a year before the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I think of my dad, sitting in a room he shared with 5 other South Asian men, planning his life in the States. I see him never doubting he was in one of the few countries in the world where if he worked hard, he would make it. He had come from Pakistan to the States to complete his PhD in Microbiology. When we moved to Canada, my dad continued his post-graduate work and raising us four sisters. This is the American Dream that he had, this was the America that I was born in, and this is the America for which we will keep fighting.