By Abdisalam Garjeex
Recently the world saw how President Donald Trump violated and disgraced the four Congress women of color now commonly referred to as “The Squad”, consisting of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and of course our beloved sister, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
Rep. Ilhan Omar in particular has been singled out among the four women as the primary target of President Trump’s vitriol due to not being born on American soil. So emboldened were the President’s supporters by the xenophobic taunts he has been directing at Omar, that they comfortably broke out in the chant of “send her back!” at a campaign rally in North Carolina. A chant truly more reminiscent of a 1930s Klan meeting than a campaign rally for the POTUS in 2019.
When Ilhan returned to Minnesota, however, she was welcomed with a heartwarming reception at the airport, showing how valiantly she is representing her district and is fighting for the rights of minorities and voiceless refugees and immigrants nationwide. Since Omar has been in office she has even been brave enough (as a Muslim-American woman no less) to take on more controversial topics such as American Foreign policy. By calling out AIPEC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, she managed in a single tweet to expose the inherent disinterest in the Palestinian plight due to powerful lobbying groups. Ilhan Omar’s ability to be outspoken on issues both international and domestic whilst fighting off a bigot like President Trump, insistent on branding her as unpatriotic and anti-Semitic is directly tied to her understanding of the American identity. That this identity does not consist of one creed, gender, or color and that no one, not even Donald Trump in his function as POTUS, has monopoly over the narrative which makes one an American.
Why I’m Proud to Call America My Home
Like Ilhan Omar, I’ve made America my home and recently to mark the 4th of July I donned a tie with the stars and stripes of the flag and posted the photo I took on Facebook. To my surprise, some of my friends’ comments seemed to insinuate that I had abandoned my heritage and country only to be second-rate citizen in the United States, not legitimately a real American, but only someone with paper documents.
My quick rejoinder was that I’m delighted to have been living here for over 20 years and that this country has given me safety, stability, and ample opportunity as a Somali single father to provide for my children and send all five of them off to graduate from some of the finest institutions. I have plenty of reasons to be grateful for what I’ve been able to acquire here and the identity I’ve been able to form as it hasn’t always been so easy to find a place where my children and myself could truly feel home.
When I fled Somalia in 1991, my family and I first settled as refugees in the Netherlands for a decade before moving to the United States. Some of my children were even born in the Netherlands and during all these years, I can tell you that neither my kids nor myself felt comfortable within the Dutch community. The Dutch frequently insisted this feeling of strangeness in their land was caused by our own unwillingness to integrate but I assure you this was due to their own anti-immigrant sentiment and fixed national identity. In fact, the Netherlands isn’t the only country with this problem.
The anti-immigrant sentiment is a widespread problem in most of Europe, especially in countries like Belgium, France, and Germany who also have large immigrant populations. Immigrants in these countries are systematically discriminated against for their otherness and do not enjoy the same quality of life and socio-economic prosperity as the natives, even when they’ve become citizens after going through the naturalization process. One only has to look at university enrollment in some of these countries and you will see that immigrant students are still underrepresented. Here too, I can’t help but be grateful again to have attended the Boarding Secondary School in Jowhar, Somalia, ran by the American Mennonite Mission in the mid 70’s and in the early 80’s received my University education at State University of New York, New Paltz, allowing me my first glimpse into a society based much more on meritocracy than any other country I had travelled to or had lived in (including my native Somalia).
Of course, the US is not without fault here, it contends with a violent and prejudiced past everyday but can anyone name one other country ripe with the socio-economic conditions and civil past to produce the likes of Ilhan Omar or Barrack Obama for that matter? I think not, at least not yet.
Why I’ve Lost Pride in My Country of Origin
As we discuss narratives and identity, it is clear as Somalis we have not been able to find ideals or ideas that are unwavering and able to transcend the civil turmoil we’ve been experiencing for the past 30 years. No amount of reconciliation and intervention from the outside world has been able to rebuild Somalia. We have no fully functioning government and each regional state really is no more than a tribal enclave intent on functioning autonomously. This will be the legacy we pass on to a future generation, should a future generation with no narrative or identity in place to inspire them even care enough to take over the reins.
I nevertheless hope they will choose to do so and perhaps with their optimism are able to inject new life into the wearied dream of Somalia at peace and manage to turn this into a reality somehow. But in the meantime I’m not holding my breath and I have no option but to be a productive citizen in my adopted country, America, like Ilhan Omar.
Ashburn, VA (USA)
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