I, too, am America

Photo by Marjorie Kamys Cotera

Every day as I’ve read the news and tried to get some rest, my heart has been filled with sorrow, my mind with anguish, and my soul aching for relief, but I remind myself to be hopeful. I repeat Langston Hughes’ poem to myself: “I, too, am America.”

While the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has refused to reinstate President Trump’s controversial executive order on refugees, based on the comments of my U.S. Senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, I know that they have not fully reflected upon the views of Muslim Texans and Muslim Americans who look like me and pray like me. This executive order and other anti-Muslim immigration proposals, which Trump has set forth and Cornyn and Cruz have defended, do not represent our great American melting pot. I am deeply troubled by my senators’ willingness to forget those who they represent and those who look up to them for moral leadership. These events have triggered me to express my personal views.

Recently, I arrived in Sri Lanka as a State Department-funded Fulbright Research Scholar from The George Washington University to look at best approaches for peace-building and conflict resolution after a bloody, multi-decade civil war here. More importantly, I came to serve as a cultural ambassador for the United States and to reinforce the bonds of friendship and mutual understanding between our two nations.

Those around me are also appalled by the decisions of U.S. elected officials who allow fear-based, ill-informed immigration and national security priorities to outweigh our guiding principles. While I work to further instill tolerance and acceptance here, my country is breeding hatred and my senators have not entirely condemned it. The executive order indicates mistrust of Muslim-majority countries and elevates unfair, xenophobic stereotypes about all adherents of Islam. A discriminatory religious test to determine entry after refugees have already escaped the worst forms of persecution is not in keeping with who we are and what we believe.

Martin Luther King Jr. said, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” The response of the legislative leadership signals complicity in the oppression of Muslim Americans and Muslims worldwide. Respecting religious diversity is a bedrock value and it is at stake today. The Muslim ban does not make us safer; it exacerbates tensions and weakens our national security objectives.

These hateful legal actions have attempted to normalize bigotry and aim to make our accepting nation shift towards intolerance. I know, as do my senators, that Texas is better than that. The United States — founded on the idea that all people are created equal and should be treated with respect and dignity — is better than that.

We value unity. We value inclusion. We love our neighbors; we learn from them and they learn from us; we worry about them and we care for them. When our community is at risk — when the legitimacy of our democracy is at risk — we rally together to send a collective message of compassion, not one of division.

I am a Truman Scholar with a deep, abiding passion for public service and faith in our democratic system. “We the people” expect our senators to hear us and voice our genuine concerns. They’ve dismissed mainstream media, but they must not dismiss me; they must not dismiss the rest of their Texas constituents. We are hurt by their readiness to neglect us and be complacent. History will remember this.

I would like to remind them of the contributions of immigrants and refugees in our community — the individuals make our mosaic stronger, more connected, and more prosperous. Immigrants are part of America’s success recipe because they’ve imagined new possibilities and worked tirelessly to build the United States into the country it is today. Every immigrant has a story not only filled with trials and tribulations but also triumphs.

My own parents came to Texas as immigrants nearly 30 years ago, fleeing war, conflict, and civil unrest in India and Pakistan. My grandparents, who instilled in me a love of service, were refugees from Bangladesh and Burma and arrived in the U.S. over 20 years ago. Despite the economic and language barriers, they believed in the American promise and persisted until their resilience paid off.

Over the past three decades, my parents have employed several hard-working American citizens of all shades and creeds. They have lifted others up, provided economic opportunities, supported their educational endeavors, attended their weddings and been beacons of hope. Because of their sacrifices, my brother and I are the first in our family to attend American universities. Their experience in the U.S. encouraged me to do all I could to make our country a more perfect union.

Ours is just one of many success stories that make Texas and the U.S. what they are today. Immigrants and refugees like those trying to come to our cities now share similar struggles and aspirations. They are not trying to harm us; they seek to make America their home.

I urge my senators to reflect on the gravity of their words and the weight of their vote when they use their voice to represent all Texans. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reminded us that there is no fine print in the words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. Those who seek refuge deserved to be welcomed. That has always been our motto — E Pluribus Unum.