By Jasmine Moawad-Barrientos
I am Muslim. I am Latina. I am a woman. I am proud to hold all three identities ― but I am also scared. I am scared because my state’s race for governor, between Republican Ed Gillespie and Democrat Ralph Northam, could set the tone of rhetoric and policies for the Commonwealth of Virginia and the rest of country.
Virginia is at the epicenter of the battle for the heart and soul of America. Just last week, Gillespie released four ads playing on fears of Latinos and racial stereotypes. The latest ad, which opens with a dark hooded figure holding a baseball bat as “Kill, Rape, Control” flashes across the screen, is part of a national movement to tie Latinos and immigrants to MS-13 gang violence. It is disheartening, misleading and downright scary.
These racist, deceiving ads in Virginia are not just talk. My own son was assaulted by an FBI agent just a few years ago when he was 15 years old. Cell phone video showed how this grown man armed with a gun attacked a defenseless child. The officer was charged and convicted, but in a move that added more pain to my heartbreak, a judge sympathized with the agent and dismissed the verdict. This is how justice is thwarted for immigrants and people of color: When judges sympathize with the aggressors, not the children of color they abuse. It is a clear to me that this is the result of the actions and rhetoric of elected officials who demonize immigrant and Latino communities. Their words and deeds put our families at risk for craven political gain.
This November, we have to stop them.
We have a choice in this election between two Americas. One is the dark vision of America owned by white supremacists, racists and since January, Donald Trump – who swept the Electoral College with his promise to “make America great again” by building a wall, breaking up families and destroying America’s multi-cultural fabric. He vowed to create an America that believes in rounding up people who are undocumented, forcing Muslim Americans to add their names to registries, and banning refugees in search of a better life. This is the version of America that runs on fear, xenophobia and divisiveness – a country that lines the pockets of people who can afford private jets at the expense of minorities, immigrants and other vulnerable communities.
I believe in a different America. An America where Muslims, Jews, Christians and people with no religion at all are treated with the same respect and dignity as everyone. An America that works to live up to the promise of the American Dream and defends our values against those who want to take us back. An America where a black community organizer with a Muslim name and a Christian upbringing can become president of the United States – and maybe someday, a Muslim Latina too.
When you cast your vote on November 7, I hope you will hold these competing visions of our country in your mind. I hope you think of my son ― and millions of Virginia families ― who deserve the same opportunities, no matter what they look like or where they came from.
Virginia, the choice is yours. I hope you make the right one.
Jasmine Moawad-Barrientos is lawyer, civil rights advocate and a Virginia-based communications fellow for the Center for Community Change Action.