A Muslim-American Reader of Andrew Sullivan’s…

writes a moving tale.

I’m a Muslim-American living in Los Angeles, though not very religious. I was so giddy I woke up at 4am this morning and couldn’t fall back asleep. Lying there, I realized it was 7 o’clock on the east coast so polling places were just opening. Thoughts of my parents back in Virginia flooded my mind.

My parents are immigrants from Bangladesh. At 18, my father fled ethnic cleansing camps in Pakistan while bombs fell on my mother’s village in Bangladesh–West Pakistan at the time, and rebelling. My father paid to be smuggled across Afghanistan, and nearly died many times before managing to enroll in university to finish his engineering degree. Then, after marrying and having kids, he was forced to study for an engineering degree again in 1980’s America while working as a janitor and cashier at K-Mart. The racism, condescension and poverty he faced after immigrating to Detroit echoed the degradation in the concentration camps of his youth. For many years my parents struggled to gain citizenship, but were relieved they got here in time to make sure I was natural born.

They moved to Boston where my mom sewed clothes in a sweatshop while raising my sister and me. As the economy boomed through the 90s, my parents bought a couple cars, a house in the suburbs, and saved up to send us to college.

My parents live in Virginia now and my sister & her husband live in North Carolina. My mom–who’s never talked politics with me in 22 years–has been calling me daily the past week to discuss the election. Both she and my father even volunteered for the Obama campaign doing data entry for 16 hours on the weekends. I was shocked when I found out–my parents have never even been to a PTA meeting, let alone volunteer. She anxiously urged me to vote first thing in the morning today so I would be safe at home in case anything bad happens. Of course my parents have voted early and so has my sister.

I got to the polling place at 7:30. The line stretched onto the sidewalk but it wasn’t huge. We waited about an hour because some elderly people needed help. A young girl helped an old African-American woman up the stairs to the front of the line because she couldn’t stay standing too long. The atmosphere was friendly, but almost hushed, the day’s importance just beyond anyone’s lips.

After punching the ballot for Barack Obama, I felt the culmination of many generations of struggle. My throat tightened, thinking that my parents’ great journey across an ocean through half a century of violence, poverty and humiliation was not in vain, but so they could be here to vote for this man, at this time. A President Obama would not necessarily change the status quo or solve the myriad problems facing our nation and our species, but his ascension would be a sign that there is equality, there is opportunity, there is hope. That in America, things are fair. For my parents, this is a momentous day. They have toiled in squalor to exert their power by supporting a man who can guide them out of the ressentiment that keeps the moderate Muslim community secluded and into the mainstream American dialogue.

Tears surged in my eyes as I left the polling place. This change is not the product of a brilliant fundraiser’s fancy marketing campaign, but a very real transformation among people as they have moved through space & time and shared experiences with each other. If a black man with the middle named Hussein can become President of the United States of America, anything is possible.


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