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Essay: I’m a Muslim Arab-American. Here’s Why the Immigration Ban is Personal

For this local Muslim-American daughter of Middle Eastern immigrants, the line between the personal and political is blurry.


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I have a confession to make: I am addicted to the internet. It’s not that surprising considering I’m your typical 20-something American millennial. In fact, for the most part, I’m pretty much your average American woman. My interests include watching Gilmore Girls reruns on Netflix, posting photos of my food on Instagram and playing with my 9-month-old rabbit (who even has her own Instagram account, because I’m just that addicted).

 

SEE ALSO: Meet 7 Islanders Who Visibly Represent Their Faith

 

There is one major difference that people tend to notice within about 0.05 seconds of meeting me: I am visibly Muslim. I’ve been wearing hijab, the Islamic headscarf, by choice since my freshman year at Castle High School in Kāne‘ohe. I am the daughter of Egyptian immigrants, who first moved to New York a long, long time ago so my dad, now a professor of hydrogeology at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, could get his Ph.D. from Cornell University. Since then, all of his three children have grown up in the U.S., attended college here and are now working members of society. I managed to turn my internet addiction into a paying web/social media gig, since I hear you’re supposed to do what you love.

 

Enjy El-Kadi at Brue Bar

Actual photo of me gazing lovingly at the internet.
Photo: Aaron Yoshino

 

Lately, it seems as though the internet has betrayed my love and turned our relationship toxic. Scrolling through Facebook these days is like: cat video, cat video, funny meme, people calling Muslims “terrorists” and suggesting the government put us in internment camps ... wait, one of these posts is not like the others. It’s a little heartbreaking to see how many people clamor for the death of people they’ve never met before, but not entirely surprising. These people are genuinely scared that the 1.7 billion Muslim people worldwide exist purely to kill Americans because they “disagree with American values.” Of course, that isn’t true, but these people don’t know that. And trying to explain this to them just gets you locked in endless Facebook battles of epic proportion.

 

As a fellow American, I can empathize with their concerns, but my own concerns are two-fold: I’m scared the plane I’m on will get hijacked, but I’m also afraid I’ll get blamed for it when they find my U.S. passport. 

 

Sarah's scribbles

Image: Sarah Andersen/Sarah’s Scribbles

 

To be clear: Egypt wasn’t on the list of  Muslim-majority countries affected by the temporary travel ban (fingers crossed it stays that way) and my family and I are all legal citizens of the U.S., yet people who look just like me are suffering in what’s left of their home countries, and most days it seems like no one cares. I heard somewhere that, if you give a serial killer personal details about yourself, they’re less likely to murder you. Well, I hope the same applies for people who seem indifferent about whether you live or die just because you happen to be from the Middle East. And, really, calling it “indifference” is putting it lightly. Maybe once people get to know me, the Muslim, Egyptian-American daughter of immigrants, they’ll realize that immigrants (and their children) are just normal people who aren’t actually out to harm other Americans. We’re humans, just like everyone else.

 

“No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.” —Warsan Shire

 

Even my family’s story is typical—for immigrants, at least. Regardless of which country they come from or their reasons for leaving, immigrants move to the U.S. to improve their lives, not to end anyone else’s. In Hawai‘i, most of us come from Polynesia, the Philippines, China, Japan, Korea, Portugal and more, and, for the most part, the stories are just like my family’s: They make the extremely difficult and often brave decision to leave the familiarity of their home country in the hope of making better lives for themselves and their children. Have you ever noticed that local immigrant parents have sky-high expectations of their children, especially when it comes to education? Immigrants do not play around when it comes to making a living (surprisingly, my parents aren’t too disappointed that my siblings and I haven’t become doctors). Most don’t come here with the intention of living off the state or becoming homeless; they aim to get an education and to give back to the country that gave them a second chance.

 

 

A post shared by Daniel Etter (@danieletter) on

Laith Majid cries tears of joy and relief that he and his children have made it to Europe from Syria.

 

There is, of course, a difference between immigrants—those who leave their country by choice—and refugees, who will literally die if they stay in their home countries. Yet our country was founded by people who moved to make a better life, and the result of welcoming new arrivals to our country is the same: grateful, hard-working people who give back to their new home country and raise their children to be proud, internet-addicted Americans like me.

 

READ MORE STORIES BY ENJY EL-KADI

 

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Honolulu Magazine May 2017
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