This past weekend, my wife and I traveled with our two children to go visit a local farm around Saint Cloud, Minnesota. As we drove toward our destination we came across beautiful, vast and open farmland, which had quite the calming effect on me. While we continued to drive, I said to myself that America has an amazing gift in this great land, even though it belonged to someone else a long time ago.
In a flash, something caught my eye. Trump signs. Countless farms on both sides... and Trump was everywhere. For me, honestly, the mere sight of Trump signs did not mean the owners of the farm were racist, bigots, unwelcoming and taking Trump’s words as being truthful. I wanted to give them the benefit of doubt because I know they are more than that. I know they would understand my fear once I explained it to them.
Here I am, a Muslim, Somali American, black man, with my entire family riding on this lonely road through the American countryside of Central Minnesota ― the food basket of Minnesota ― yet I was fearful. I was afraid. What if Donald Trump’s message had gotten to them first? Or what about the hateful anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant pastor visiting rural communities of Minnesota, poisoning the wells even more?
What if my car broke down, or I hit a deer? Will all these farmers with Trump signs in their yard be willing to help my family and me?
Now, think of this. Can you tell me how many white people, married with children, are fearful of driving through wide-open Minnesota countryside when they venture out to spend time with their families?
It hit me that I have been tagged. In my mind, I replayed what Donald Trump had said about Muslims, Latinos, Somali Americans, African Americans, Muslim veterans, women and refugees. Things like, “Muslims should not be allowed in the U.S.” and “Mexicans are rapists,” and so on, attacking many different groups, including our veterans.
I was afraid because sitting next to me was my beautiful wife wearing a hijab. I have always been afraid to venture out with my family in many public places. I fear that someone will verbally attack my wife because of her hijab and the way she chooses to dress as a Muslim.
I understand that I am not the first American to have this fear. Our American history book continues to be written, and I am included in this story. So is my religion, my culture. Before my chapter, there were chapters written about those who were here, those who came before I did. The ugliest of all the chapters is slavery. That chapter still hurts. The legacy of that chapter is still alive and we continue to deal with it everyday.
African Americans have always been tagged because of the color of their skin. In Jim Crow time, there were signs everywhere just to remind African Americans they did not belong. Many other people groups have been tagged throughout history: the Irish got punched, the Jews got spit on, Catholics were told they can never be president. For many who came to be America, their early experience wasn’t rosy, and in some instances, it was downright horrifying and ugly.
So, back to my family’s trip to the farm. We did reach our destination, and I spent quality time with my family, yet I wasn’t fulfilled. I could not shake the question: “How many Muslims in Central Minnesota will dare to venture out to this farm like we did?”
I ask each one of you to get to know your neighbors and hear what it is like to walk in their shoes. Truly, you will only be able to understand our fears once you experience what this chapter in American history feels like to those on the outside.