Roya and Arman as kids, pictured left and right respectively.
It’s Family Day across Canada today. For many Canadians, this day might mean something more in 2017 than in past years. Hatred, bigotry, and division are omnipresent. Times were neve easy for some, and for most, they haven’t been this difficult in a while. We are under threat, and so are the people for whom we care. However, we can still turn to those we love. We can offer support, and we can ask for it. While we have to battle out the politics of daily life whether we like it or not, we don’t have to do it alone.
Arman Adel returns to Lucky Penny Mag with a letter to his sister, Roya, who turned to him for support following news of Donald Trump’s racist and xenophobic immigration ban.
I once wrote a very quirky story about my experience at Islamic Sunday School. I know you loved the story. Maybe you thought it humanized us or you found it funny that your older brother still holds childhood grudges. For whatever reason, you took comfort in that story; it made you feel safe.
I understand why you came to me when you found out your best friend can no longer enter the United States.
Unfortunately, I don’t have a happy follow up story; there isn’t any personal experience that I could draw on to alleviate your fear.
So instead, I would like to talk about the time we spent in the airport when we were little.
I can’t remember how many times we’ve been to Manhattan, it seemed like anytime we had a holiday that’s where we’d be.
We spent more time playing in Central Park then we did at local parks in Oakville. We’ve been to all the tourist and local spots multiple times.We were in and out of our aunts place so much that the doorman and front desk thought we were her kids; she would always call us her childrenwhen we would invite them up for Thanksgiving dinner.
I had my first burger and pizza slice around 5th Avenue not too far from the hospital where I was born.
New York should have been our second home,but that feeling never caught on because every wonderful moment spent there was met with an equally terrible experience in American Customs.
Heading to the airport 4 hours before our flight became normal; a minimum 2 hour holding period was expected before we were allowed to walk to our gate. The room they sat us in was always dreary. No electronics were allowed and the atmosphere implied talking wasn’t either.
Staring at people was the only available activity.
I never saw any suspicious characters when I would survey the room; it was always small families like us.
Agonizing boredom aside, the part I hated the most was interacting with the immigration officers. They were never polite but occasionally they chose to be downright nasty. When you were 3, we had spent a particularly long time waiting to be let out when they finally called our names. The officer on duty asked us some routine questions and then began to hand back our passports.
He waited a moment before he gave back mine.
Looking smug, he said that I was lucky to even have an American Passport. At 8 years old it was very clear to me that we weren’t welcome.
Moving into 2017, President Trump has already placed 7 predominantly Muslim nationson an immigration blacklist.
I know this must be demoralizing to you, it’s definitely forced me to sit down and reflect but in some ways it’s strangely it’s motivating.
When we were kids, they tried to shut us out behind closed doors where no one could see. Now they’ve brought that same sentiment right into the public, giving us a fighting chance. It’s in writing now; even the staunchest deniers of Islamophobia can’t turn a blind eye to the issue anymore.
So don’t lose hope just yet Roya, there are people out there who will try to hurt you for no other reason than your race and religion but there are also people out there who won’t stay quietwhen that happens.
There are people out there who won’t listen to a word you’re saying because to them ignorance is more convenient than speaking out, but there are also people out there who are willing to shout so loud that you won’t be forgotten.
I know the world is scary right now, and I can’t promise you that things will get better but I can tell you that people aren’t staying as silent as they used to.
So keep your head high.
We’ve let ignorance win before, but not this time. Feeling at home in New York, or anywhere else, is our birthright. For 14 years we let them take that away from us in a segregated room, but now I want it back. I hope you do too.