The United States is home to millions of immigrants, working hard to build a good life for their families. My family represents just one of those stories — the story of hard-working immigrants who worked to achieve their American Dream.
My parents came to the U.S. from Syria in 1985. Yes, Syria, the same Syria we’ve heard about almost every day for the past five years. Specifically, Aleppo. Yes, Aleppo, the same Aleppo that’s been unfortunately linked to the phrase “Aleppo moment,” and it’s been the heart of the revolution in Syria. My parents came to this country because this country is “home of the brave and land of the free.” They built two successful small businesses in this great country. For over 12 years now, my family has served state lawmakers at our restaurant, the Shish Kabob Grill on Capitol Hill across from the Statehouse. My family and I have come to know many politicians over the years — federal officials, state and city representatives, both Republicans and Democrats, who have come to our restaurant, who I’ve come to know. Over the sizzle of our restaurant’s shawerma’s and our plates of hummus, we are regularly at the center of conversation about politics and issues. Examples are the ongoing humanitarian crisis happening in Syria, or the issues of Muslims-Americans and Islamophobia with our state’s decision makers and with the general public who stop in for a bite to eat.
That’s why it’s been so heartbreaking to watch this incredible country, which has given my family so much, turn inward as Donald Trump’s candidacy has fanned the flames of bigotry and hate for political gain. As such, it has forced me to give my two cents.
You don’t need me to tell you that this election has reached new lows when it has come to hateful and divisive rhetoric. As a Syrian-American Muslim, my family feels the effects of this personally. One can’t understand the level of hate, bigotry and threats toward myself and my family for the simple fact of who we are. I can’t begin to describe the struggles of the day-to-day interactions, of dealing with this newfound reason to hate and ridicule people like myself. If that wasn’t enough, the pain of losing four family members in the ongoing crisis in Syria is magnified by the Islamophobia my hard-working family encounters here and now, which has only been amplified by Donald Trump.
I grew up with you and your children. I’m a millennial, those same millennials who grew up learning to work with one another and learning about diversity in our classroom, the history we share together. I’ve never seen a difference between myself with my neighbor or my peers until the horrific day of 9/11: Somehow, someway, that day I became different.
I can’t be the American kid that just happens to be Muslim or happens to be Syrian, but rather I’ve now been looked at as different from “us.” You can’t imagine how it feels to suddenly be the outcast of your own group. Now, for some reason I have to convince people there’s nothing to worry about, that I’m a safe person to be around, as if I have some sort of disease. I try to deny the constant bombardment of negative news media about Muslims and Syrians, and as of late, to somehow get people to understand that just because you’re Syrian doesn’t mean you’re a “terrorist.” Never in my wildest dreams did I think people would every care that I was Syrian, never did I ever think being Muslim would matter to anyone. But to come to the point has put me in a place no one should ever be. Which is why I’m writing this. Many may say your voice doesn’t matter or doesn’t count. I’m here to say otherwise.
I’m the minority, but I have a voice, a voice everyone can relate to and understand. I work 12-hour days at my family’s shop, going to school full time, about to graduate — just like everyone else. But I’m actually willing to speak up. Do I open myself to criticism? Of course. Do I open my family to potentially more hate and bigotry? It goes without saying. But this matters a lot to me — and it should matter to you. Our political climate has been the worst it has ever been. Plain and simple. And in this election, it’s not about issues, but rather your principles, character and morals, which prompted me to write this. Our elected representatives haven’t been authentic.
I’m sorry, but its true. It goes without saying the U.S. is more diverse now then ever before. As an American born and raised, I can’t force my hand to vote for someone who puts down Muslims. I can’t. I can’t vote for someone who disagrees even with his own vice president nominee on Syria, and on the national presidential debate stage only weeks before the election. I can’t. And I can’t vote for someone down the ballot who sides with Trump one day, and flips against him another day. I agree, people sometimes have to change their stance when it goes against their morals and one can’t agree anymore.
But Donald Trump insults Muslims, Mexicans, women and virtually anyone not like him. It is not what leadership looks like. I’m sorry, but if you were with Trump this entire time and you’re just now “un-endorsing” him because he got caught, you should be ashamed of yourself. Trump has been preaching hate this whole time! Where have you been? He wants me and my family to “register as Muslims” — why? To be honest, I couldn’t be more proud to do so. But how dare he undermine the American people, particularly Muslim-Americans? Do we really want to see Japanese internment camps again, but this time for Muslims? Do you want to vote for those sort of ideals and moral? I hope not, for the sake of our country and constitution.
I’m not asking you to vote for Hillary Clinton — far be it for a stranger to tell you how you should vote. But I also know that what Donald Trump is preaching is not what U.S politics is about.
Particularly in a growing community like ours, it’s essential that elected representatives lead with love and kindness, like Morgan Carroll for Congressional District 6 in Colorado, or Hillary Clinton — both standing up to forces that aim to divide you and me. People who campaign with a slogan of fear threaten the very fabric of our nation. Last I checked, we stand for “liberty and justice for all,” the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We are the home of the brave and land of the free. Don’t forget that.
By the way, by the time you finished reading this, a Syrian has died.
Obeid Kaifo lives in Aurora and owns a restaurant on Colfax across from the Colorado state Capitol.