I voted last week. Not for the first time in a couple of years. Not for the first time in the United States. I voted for the first time ever.
Having grown up in the United Arab Emirates as an expatriate and going to grad school in Pakistan, where the youth don’t really vote, this was my first ballot- ever. After becoming a naturalized citizen just a few months ago, I knew I was going to vote this year. However, I didn’t want to vote just for the sake of hitting a few random buttons on a screen. I researched candidates and where they stand on issues dear to me like immigration reform, and end to racial profiling and end to the wars.
I also researched which candidates are not afraid of being seen with Muslims. Which candidates agree to meetings, attend events in the immigrant and Muslim communities and stand up for minorities at a time when it is not the most popular thing to do.
In tight races, it is not a cliché that every vote counts. It really does. I want to make sure my first vote means something. Voting is not just my right as an American; it is also my duty as a Muslim.
The enthusiasm I see in the Muslim community in Chicagoland has also contributed to my optimism. Youth that could be battling virtual monsters on the XBOX 360 are door-knocking and phone banking to help get out the vote. An interesting exchange with a half-Syrian, half-Irish and full-American youth last week sealed the deal.
“Can you help me cut 50 stars out of white paper?” asked the cheerful Maryam Al-Zoubi as I entered Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview. “I’m making the American flag for the press conference and to put on the bus that will take voters to cast an early ballot today,” she smiled.
“Why couldn’t you just go out and buy a flag?” I asked in a “duh” tone. Maryam, 22, explained and I stood in amazement.
“I stayed up all night putting together red and white stripes as the base of the flag because there was no way I was going to write on a real flag,” she said. “And what if it fell from the bus on this windy day? I would never be able to live with myself if my flag fell.”
Two words that say it all. Maryam is not alone. There are hundreds of thousands of Muslim American youth that would be hurt and bewildered if they were told to “go back home.” Hate crimes or racial slurs against immigrant 40-somethings are also in no way acceptable, but these kids dream in red-white-and-blue. While some may be skeptical, I am an eternal optimist. I am hopeful that with the energy and spunk of the Maryams of today coupled with the seasoned wisdom and experience of the older generation, things will only get better.
I am hopeful that as my kids, now 8 and 5, grow up pledging allegiance to the flag at school every day, no one will ever dare ask them to “go home”.