I’ve always felt secure in my identity as an American. Now, with Donald Trump in the White House and rising distrust of Muslims, I feel fear where once I felt certainty.

A political rally for Donald Trump, left, in Oklahoma City, 26 February 2016.
(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

By Laila Mirza

I’ve always felt secure in my identity as an American.

Rock solid and unwavering, my identity has always been there for me. Safe in my condition, I proudly participated in Flag Day in my Fifth Grade class at school, belting out the national anthem and “America the Beautiful”. I wore red, white and blue joyfully on the Fourth of July and shot sparklers into the sky while roasting marshmallows.

The first time I was called a terrorist, I was in Fifth Grade and playing on the monkey bars when a boy came up to me. “My mom told me that all Muslims are terrorists,” he blurted out.

When I look back at the incident, I remember being confused and laughing it off, even as I felt the first cracks appear in my American identity.

I didn’t have many incidents like this until the summer before Ninth Grade, when Donald Trump announced his intention to run for the U.S. presidency. I remember hearing about it, listening to jokes about the reality TV mogul making a play for the presidency.

It was laughable — until it wasn’t.

If the president can say it, why shouldn’t we?

The comments started slowly: a jab here, a questionable statement there. It wasn’t until after the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015 that I fully grasped the gravity of the situation.

Trump said he would consider closing down mosques. “I would hate to do it,” he said after the Paris attacks, “but it’s something that you’re going to have to strongly consider because some of the ideas and some of the hatred — the absolute hatred — is coming from these areas.”

I was shocked and genuinely afraid.

People stopped laughing. Trump was the real deal, something we had to watch out for, be on guard against.

Clearly, the Islamophobic mindset that pervades our world today was not born during the U.S. election. These are ideas that have festered in the back of American minds since 9/11 or even longer.

I’m not naive enough to think Islamophobia will end when Donald Trump leaves office. What he has done, however, is to allow that mindset to be accepted as normal.

If the president of the United States can say it, why shouldn’t we?

It’s almost easy to try to pretend that there’s no reason for us to worry. We’re American citizens, born and bred. How could this affect us?

There are more cracks in my identity.

In the past, my family might have been distressed by Islamophobia, but we never believed we would be directly affected by it. Maybe a remark in the street, “random” security checks at the airport, a hurtful Facebook comment, nothing more.

Then Trump announced the travel ban and everything changed. My parents, who had never given much thought to it, were now acutely aware they are not American citizens by birth. My grandmother was told to stay in the States, to avoid flying back to Pakistan for fear she would not be able to return.

Vacations were debated, essential documents reviewed. Things we would never have thought possible were forced upon us, making my family feel that even though we are citizens, we are not really American.

It’s everywhere now, the fear and the worry. There are more cracks in my identity, widening with every tweet and statement damning my religion and my culture.

Sometimes I wonder if the cracks will ever heal.

Laila Mirza is in her second-to-last year of high school, currently studying with the School Year Abroad program in France. She will complete her high school studies at the Wheeler School in Rhode Island. Her interests include rowing, baking, cooking and volunteering with the local refugee and homeless center. Her favorite classes include Politics and European History, and she eventually wants to be an international relations lawyer and, hopefully, work at the United Nations.


Reflections of a Muslim in America

  1. As someone who tries to be aware of, and sensitive to, the ways racism and bigotry affect myself, my family, and the families of all Americans, I appreciate you sharing your experience. I have wonderful friends and acquaintances who are Muslim and who seem to be strong, confident, and vital members of my community, and yet I did not fully grasp the details of how the words and actions of the current administration might be affecting my friends and shaking their confidence and feelings of safety. Thank you for enlightening me.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. I am glad that my article has shown you what many of your friends might be feeling and how you can help.
      – Laila

  2. Dear Leila,
    I must say you are the voice of many who are going through same fear every day. Very well thought article.

  3. Dear Ms. Mirza:

    In your time at SYA France, have you felt safer, less targeted, more accepted than you felt in the States? I applaud you for writing so honestly and coherently about your experience. Most worrisome for me is your recognition that the President has allowed hateful, xenophobic speech to be normalized among those who would normally think twice about making superficial judgments. Thank you for speaking out, and best of luck this year in Rennes! (A Teacher)

    1. Hi Mr. Jacobsen,
      Thank you for your kind comment. I would have to say that although I feel safer and more accepted in France, I still notice the xenophobia that has infiltrated the country due to the immigration from Muslim countries or the new rhetoric enforced by Marie Le Pen and the National Front. However, I do feel less targeted by the media in France and overall safer.

  4. Very well captured Laila! It is personal stories like yours that help to highlight issues that Muslims around the world, and especially in the United States, have to face. Hope more youngsters are inspired to share their own stories.

  5. Laila, I have been a US citizen for forty years… I have always felt that my husband who is from Pakistan and I from India fitted in into this country and never gave it a second thought, but since Trump appeared on the scene, we feel exactly as you have so beautifully expressed.
    I am so sorry that you and all other young Muslims are feeling so insecure and never got to really feel how great it was to proudly tell people that we are Americans. So very sad for this country.

  6. I am horrified by your having to feel this way because of your religion…and shocked that your grandmother doesn’t feel comfortable going back to Pakistan. It makes me very ashamed of my country & its current leaders.

    Please know, Ms. Mirza, that we welcome you & all of your family, & thank you for telling us your story.

  7. This is a very powerful piece. Thank you for your candor in describing your experiences. As an older male reader, I apologize for the crude behavior of some of our fellow citizens.

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