By Aya Elamroussi
I am the intersection of Donald Trump’s rhetoric.
I am the Muslim.
I am the Immigrant.
I am the Woman.
I am the Human.
Embodying all these identities in the era of 45 is far from easy. I wake up every day hyper-aware of being a Muslim, Egyptian-American immigrant pursuing the American Dream and a chance to contribute to a society that has simultaneously embraced and rejected me in various, confusing ways. But I persevere because no matter how many times I am told I don’t belong here, I am shown that I do.
My father left me, my mom and my two older brothers in the year 2000 in our homeland, Egypt. I was five when I saw him cry for the first time as we said our reluctant goodbyes. I struggled to push a chair against the window so I could see him one last time, running into a cab as sheets of rain pelted the ground and thunder crashed in the dark, moonless sky of Alexandria. It was hard for all of us. But my father wanted my siblings and I to have endless opportunities, and he knew America was the key.
Four years later, when I was nine, I also took a cab with my mom and two brothers to the airport in our journey to America — and a new, unfamiliar way of life. Adjusting to that way of life came with its countless burdens. In less than 48 hours, I found myself going from a straight-A student in Egypt to not knowing how to read a science book in America. For someone who has always loved school and books, that was hard for me. I didn’t know how to write my last name in English or how to ask the teachers to use the restroom. And it was hard to see my mom, who is such a strong force in my life, feel powerless because the language barrier kept her from being as independent as she had been.
But little did I know that the language barrier was just a needle in the haystack of social issues I would later grapple. I couldn’t have imagine then the xenophobia, hate and anger that would be directed toward immigrants, Muslims and women.
We are in a time in America’s history when hate and “othering” have been normalized by its leader. So it becomes that much more important for all of us to come together. We can do it in ways big and small. Last fall, I joined the Spread Hummus Not Hate campaign bus tour. The tour featured Jewish and Muslim activists from the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area riding together on a minibus and stopping at different mosques and synagogues to share hummus and warm pita bread as a sign of solidarity in the face of the Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and all forms of bigotry expressed by the current administration.
Donald Trump has used xenophobic rhetoric for political gain and that has emboldened many to hate openly. The bus provided a space where negative rhetoric had no place. These two targeted groups came together to show we have more in common than what divides us. We love to eat. What could be more communal than sharing a plate of hummus and pita. The act of coming together fostered love and fellowship between Muslims and Jews who viewed each other as companions. These two targeted groups sent a powerful message to a divided America.
Not only did I enjoy a day of laughter, songs and unity, but I formed friendships that I hold dear to my heart. I remember texting my friend, telling him that I laughed so much during the tour that my face hurt.
Now when I hurt over the two Muslim bans and the rise of Anti-Semitism catalyzed by Trump and his followers, I remember the America I saw the day of the Spread Hummus Not Hate Campaign. Although I worry about the many lives Trump has placed in limbo, the bus tour showed me what belonging looks like in America. It gives me hope, because if two groups of people who are thought to be intolerant of each other can show each other respect and compassion and stand together, then all Americans can do the same.
Aya Elamroussi is a spring communications fellow for the Center for Community Change.