My name is Sharday Claire El-Assar. My father is Essam Mahmoud El-Assar. He is a Muslim and an Arab. A Palestinian, to be exact. He was born to my grandparents, Mahmoud Al-Assar and Asma Harb, in a refugee camp in Palestine on January 22nd, 1963.
He is one of six children. My grandparents, my father, and my aunts and uncles left their home country of Palestine against their deep desire to stay among their people, their land, their beautiful groves of trees. You know why.
They can’t visit the place they were born and spent their days, and I can never go see that place either. My grandfather is from Jules, Palestine. Jules is not there anymore because it was flattened by a bulldozer. You know who is responsible for my family living in diaspora. We know about walls and what they do to people.
After leaving Palestine, my father made it to the US to go to college. He met my mom, born and raised in Upper Michigan, not long after moving to the US. They married, and I was born a few years later as he was finishing his Master’s degree in business.
Like any other young couple with a small child (and four years later, another small child, my sister), my parents essentially had nothing to start. They had their trials and tribulations, their worries and hardships. Slowly, my father’s family followed and established a community in the US, too.
My family is part of the backbone and the blood of this country. We are what it stands for—the reason why it even began to exist in the first place. Look at my family. Get to know us. You’ll find doctors. Business owners. Parents. Landlords. Tax payers. Voters. Employers. Volunteers. Employees of the government, serving the interests of this country. You’ll find a genuine desire to contribute to the community in a meaningful and impactful way. Why? Because my dad told me that this country is where you can make it, but you have to do your part. All you have to do is be good, and work hard. We all have to help each other. But it’s where you can make your dreams come true—everyone can.
Look at my family. Get to know us. We are smart and talented. We have all gone to college and have competed for the top spots in our classes. You’ll find hard-working people. You’ll find my sister, who graduated from Georgetown University and whose bread-and-butter is refugee resettlement. She’s a Fulbright scholar, a reader, a learner, a teacher, someone who is actually changing lives for the better on a daily basis. My grandmother, who doesn’t care who you are and probably doesn’t understand everything you’re saying, but she will send food for your family when someone is sick or just because they might like what she’s making. My cousin, who owns his own business and contributes to the economy and creates jobs. You’ll find me. I’m assuming you know me if you’re reading this.
We’re here because America is for us. It is this country’s obligation to keep its arms open to those citizens of the world who need help. This moment in our history is deeply shameful and wrong.
And by the way—no, I cannot “deal with” Trump. I don’t have to “agree to disagree” with you, or avoid talking about it so we can both keep smiling, when the president of this country assigns my nationality and religion to terrorism.
And if you are OK with all of this, you should know that you’re not supporting the need for border control and protection. You are telling me that you want to fight terrorism with more terrorism. You’re telling me that you’re OK with ripping families apart, or letting people die for no reason because they cannot reach safety. You’re telling me that, if we were to rewind the years, my family shouldn’t be allowed here. I shouldn’t be here.
My family is not the exception. We’re not “different” just because you happen to know us and have seen with your own eyes who we are. We are not unlike other Muslims…or Arabs, or Syrians, or Libyans, or Mexicans, or, or, or. We are not the exception. We’re the rule. And this country is for us. It’s for all of us.
Written by Sharday Claire El-Assar, published by Sweet Lemon Pies with permission from author.