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Sunday Reflections: Muslim Voices

Some of my favorite people on the planet.

Some of my favorite people on the planet.

If you know me at all, you know I am quite fond of my library minions. And when I say “my library minions,” I mean the teens and young adults I have gotten to know over the past many years working in high school and public libraries in central Minnesota. I’ve since moved and am not currently in a library, but I formed lifelong bonds with those minions. We talk and text. They come visit me. I’ve written college recommendations for them, and scholarship letters, and been a job reference. We’ve had endless lunches and dinners and coffee dates. They turn to me for advice. I am honored that many of them consider me a mentor. I love these kids. Fiercely. 

 

 

The flag of Somalia.

The flag of Somalia.

A large portion of my beloved minions are Muslims from Somalia. Minnesota’s Somali population is the largest in the United States. The area I lived in for the past decade, St. Cloud, has a HUGE Somali population. My young friends are amazing. They’re college students, tutors, grad students, volunteers, activists, med school students, writers, artists, and history-makers. They want to be doctors, lawyers, judges, authors, teachers, and therapists. As you might guess, when the travel ban was issued, I started furiously texting with some of my friends. A few of them sent me their thoughts, which I share with you here today.

 

 

From Sahra:

I feel like Trump has yet to comprehend that immigrants are an asset to society. In fact, they have always been. From early settlement in the thirteen colonies, to the era of industrialization, we have learned that it was foreigners who built the U.S.A from the ground up.

This country was established by people who escaped religious persecution in Europe and here we are denying immigrants access to a new life simply due to their religion.

We keep hearing “It’s not a Muslim ban, it’s not a Muslim ban,” but what do you call it when the only thing the 7 countries have in common is that (an astonishing majority) believe that “There is no God but Allah, and Mohamed (Peace and blessings be upon him) is his messenger”?

Fun fact: The immigrants I have had the pleasure to meet are so eager to start working as soon as they step foot in this country. I mean surely if they are working they are also paying taxes, and if they are paying taxes surely the government is benefiting.

But hey, what do I know?

Aside from that, I’m flabbergasted that a man with so little values, so little support, and so little common sense has become the president of the United States of America. At this point, we are lucky if we make it out alive by the time he gets impeached.

 

From Saido:

Do you know what it is like living in fear? Looking at everything from a different perspective. Analyzing every movement a person makes and thinking, what do they mean? Are they bullying me? I live like that every single day. I live in fear that someone might jump out of nowhere and attack me for no reason. It’s sad we live in a society where people are afraid to be themselves, and if they decided to become themselves, they become the target of a hate crime.

When I first heard about the ban, I thought it was a joke. Then I saw it on the news—people who were actually being held in the airport because they come from a country that the president thinks is a threat to this nation. I am a person who is from one of the countries the president now bans from entering the United States. I feel sad because I am an individual who has lived in this country for twelve years and I have not seen or heard about the threat my people are causing to this nation. It took me awhile to process this because,I have never heard of crimes that these countries that were put a ban have committed. On the other hand, I am glad to see people who are standing up for the rights of the refugees and also for the rights of those who are mistreated. I am a proud American citizen and I am thankful for the opportunity this country has given me.

 

From Khadija:

As citizens of the United States of America we enjoy a rare privilege. One that is not available to many people around the world. This is a privilege that I am acutely aware of at all times as a citizen with the freedom to express her thoughts and fight for what I think is right in the form of peaceful protests without fear of repercussions or violence. I want people who are oppressed to have the opportunity for a better life regardless of what religion they follow. It is my responsibility not just as a US citizen, but as a citizen of Earth to fight for peace and a world without violence and ignorance. Our best shot at unity is to advocate for peace.

Love and Justice: What I’ve learned from those seeking refuge in the U.S., a guest post by author Marie Marquardt

Today we are very honored to be talking with author Marie Marquardt about her work with Latin American immigrant families for the Social Justice in YA Lit Project. Her book, The Radius of Us, is very timely given recent events happening here in the United States. You can find out more about the #SJYALit Project here or by searching the hashtag here at TLT.

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Justice lives in my neck of the woods.

I have the great honor of being a resident of Georgia’s Fifth Congressional District, currently represented by the beloved Civil Rights hero and U.S. Congressman John Lewis.

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In Atlanta, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was born, spent much of his life, and was buried, we take our national Civil Rights heroes very seriously. I can barely contain my pride in going to the ballot box to vote for Rep. Lewis.  Every time I tick off his name, which I have done in many elections, it makes me almost giddy. One of our family’s great treasures is a photograph of my family with Rep. Lewis at the Martin Luther King National Memorial. A few years ago, Rep. Lewis showed up unannounced on MLK day to meet those who had come to honor and remember his friend. We were among them.

Like many proud Americans, I often feel betrayed, disgusted and dismayed by our current political climate. When I learned that our new president made disparaging comments about Rep. Lewis and his commitment to my district, I wanted to throw things, hit someone, kick and scream and fight and, well, hate.

But, dang. That would be about the worst possible approach to honoring and carrying forward the example of John Lewis, a consistent advocate for the philosophy of nonviolence.

Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.

Nonviolence loves without ceasing – which is at the heart of justice. In the vision of the Beloved Community, which Rep. Lewis works so hard to build, justice is understood as an expression of love. This love is not physical desire, not the affection between friends who share a great deal in common, but the unselfish, unmotivated, spontaneous self-giving love that springs forth from recognizing the spark of the divine, which is present in each one of us.

For the past twenty years I worked with immigrants in Georgia. Most are undocumented, and some are asylum-seekers who have made incredibly difficult journeys to the United States. They all made these journeys because they believed America is a place of refuge, a peaceful nation guided by such enduring values as fairness, equality, and the rule of law. Even in the face of clear injustices – blatant discrimination, inconsistent treatment in the courts – they have astounded me with their steadfast desire to participate in American life, to become American.  In fact, they have taught me to see my own nation through new eyes, to affirm and celebrate our core values.

During this time, not only have I written academic books and articles about these immigrants, I also have advocated alongside them, served them, and – most importantly – developed deep and lasting friendships with them.  These days, I spend a good deal of time visiting immigrants and asylum seekers in detention. This work is difficult and heartbreaking, but it’s some of the most important and life-affirming work that I do. In our visits, and in my work with their families and friends, we build profound connections grounded in love.

I share my stories and they share theirs. We cry together, celebrate together, fear and rage together. We connect across vast, power-laden differences. And by connecting, we do not erase those differences. We gather the courage to face them, to ask questions about them, to understand them.  We learn together that, with love and trust, we can begin to recognize the insidious systems like racism and xenophobia that work to keep us apart. We know that, once we recognize these systems, we can begin the difficult work of exposing them, of tearing them down.

Over many years, I developed love for my friends, and out of that love came a deep desire for justice.  My desire for justice drove me to the podium. I’ve stood in front of audiences, armed with data slides and a microphone, unleashing a torrent of statistics, facts, information. I have struggled mightily to engage the minds of Americans, to share information that will help them to understand how very much we misunderstand about undocumented immigrants and asylum-seekers. I believe that this information is crucially important, as the foundation for good decisions, for policies that will bring about a more just and humane society in the United States.

I also have come to believe that good information is not enough.

In our media-saturated world, we are bombarded with information and misinformation (which some call “alternative facts”). We are adrift in them. What we need — what most of us long for — is connection. We long for the opportunity to see that spark in another person, to recognize something of ourselves in the other. We also desperately need to cultivate that profound virtue of empathy. We need the opportunity to dwell for a while in the experience of another person, to dive in deep and swim around in it for a while.

Where might we find the chance to develop that profound empathy, to recognize what we have in common with those very people that we are constantly told are irreconcilably, overwhelmingly different from us? Stories. And, what better stories than love stories, stories that celebrate those deep, intimate connections that bind us together, that surprise us with their intensity, that open our hearts to new ways of knowing.

Justice is the expression of love.

Where we find, experience and nurture love, we begin to know justice.

This is why I write love stories.

About Marie Marquardt and THE RADIUS OF US

Marie Marquardt Photo Credit: Kenzi Tainow

Marie Marquardt
Photo Credit: Kenzi Tainow

Marie Marquardt has spent two decades working with Latin American immigrant families in the South and runs a non-profit called El Refugio that serves immigrants and asylum-seekers in detention. This work inspired both her books. To research The Radius of Us, she traveled to El Salvador and to detention facilities across the U.S., where she met with teenagers fleeing gang violence and seeking asylum.  

Told in alternating first person points of view, The Radius of Us is about a boy from El Salvador, who ran from a city torn-through with violence, looking for a safe place to call home. And it’s about an American girl who no longer feels safe anywhere, except maybe when she’s with him. And most importantly, the novel is about two people working together to overcome trauma and find healing in love.

The Radius of Us is available for purchase now from St. Martin’s Griffin

“…this is a compelling story that delivers profound messages through engaging, accessible prose. Both a page-turning romance and a comprehensive view of a young immigrant’s experience, this novel is sure to encourage empathy and perspective… VERDICT A must-have for all YA collections.” –School Library Journal (Starred Review)