Plaza Voices: Fear and Strength in Numbers

Our regular contributor Naghem S. writes:

I don’t know how to start this, and I have been debating how to write this for a long time. So, I’m going to bite the bullet and just start.

I haven’t been afraid to go outside for a long time. In the past, whenever a terrorist attack occurred, I would go into a certain mind-frame, ready to apologize and validate my presence. I would go over scenarios and multiple “what-ifs.” I wasn’t afraid to go outside, but I prepared myself for battle against those who didn’t (or simply refused to) comprehend that I’m human.

If you bend me enough, I break. If you hurt me enough, I cry.

A couple of weeks ago, I was out shopping for some snacks for work. As I was picking out some fruit from the stand, I noticed someone behind me. I turned around and there was a lady standing close to me. She started yelling and gesturing, waving her hands around.

“You don’t belong here!”

“You need to go back home!”

“We don’t want you here!”

“You’re a terrorist!”

She continued yelling deplorable and ugly things. Then she reached over and tried to pull my scarf off. Call it a gut reaction or a primitive urge to protect myself, but I grabbed her arm and stopped her from pulling my scarf off.

The whole incident left me breathless and scared. I haven’t been afraid of having my scarf pulled off in ages. I thought I left that disgusting behavior back in middle school. With tears in my eyes and my heart threatening to beat out of my rib cage, I texted my coworkers and told them that I would be late coming into work that day. I almost didn’t go into work, but the scared little girl from middle school who hid during her lunch period in the bathrooms woke up and reminded me to get up, keep walking, and continue with my day. That if I didn’t, the bullies would win.

So I went to work and my coworkers gathered around me and held me while I vented and cried and shouted and cried some more. They laughed with me and they cried with me. They were angry and scared for me and they supported me when my knees felt weak and were about to give up.

“We are here for you.”

 “You are not alone.”

“You belong here.”

“Fight, you cannot give up,” were repeated all day long.

At the end of the day it was those around me who made me laugh after crying. It was those around me who gave me strength to keep on going. To believe that the darkness will end, and that a new day will rise.

I didn’t write this for pity, nor did I write this to prove a political agenda.

No, I wrote this for everyone who thinks that they don’t have a voice and that they are powerless.

If you are reading this and you’ve been bullied because of the current political situation, please know that you are not alone. Please know that there are millions of people here in the United States who want you here. Please know that you are important and that you belong here. Know that you are beautiful and know that you are special. Know that this ugliness will go away, because at the end of a rainstorm there is a rainbow.

Read more of Naghem's work, and check out some of these titles on the Muslim American experience. And please visit us in Plaza, the Denver Public Library's program for immigrants and refugees. We are here to help you succeed, no matter what challenges you face. Plazas are free and everyone is welcome.

Plazas are an open community space where immigrants from all over the world connect with people, information, and resources, building Denver’s global community. Come to practice a language, prepare for citizenship, pursue your goals, and create your future. Whatever you’re doing, we can help! Please see our events calendar for more information.

Written by Amanda R. on December 8, 2016

Comments

Sarah Evilsizor on December 8, 2016

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Naghem,
Thank you for sharing this. I am so sorry that this happened and appreciate how hard it must have been for you to tell us about this horrible thing that happened to you. I'm glad you prevented this person from violating you. You did the right thing. We are with you. Stay strong and be careful. Please consider telling the Southern Poverty Law Center about this hate crime if you haven't already, and here's a video you may have seen: https://www.splcenter.org/reporthate http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2016/11/29/hijab-grab-self-denfence_n_1330…

Trish Tilly on December 8, 2016

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You are not alone.

Cynthia Swanson on December 8, 2016

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Thank you for writing and sharing your words and experience, Naghem. You are not alone. You belong here.

Paulette Fara-… on December 8, 2016

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Your bravery is inspiring and encourages all of us to stand up for what we believe in. Thank you for sharing your story. I am so sorry that the other women was clearly fighting some demons of her own. It has nothing to do with you, but instead with her own fears which she denies to work on. Sending hugs your way~

Shelly Barton on December 9, 2016

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I am so sorry you had to experience this, and glad that you were able to find sympathy and support from your friends and coworkers! I hope your message reaches others who might be having the same type of horrible experiences and encourages them to also reach out for support, and find strength from those who do love and value them. I also hope your message encourages others to stand up, speak up, and help whenever something like that happens around them!

Eva Del Rio on December 9, 2016

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*tears*
Thank you for sharing and thank you for your message: stay strong in the face of adversity!

Dana F on December 12, 2016

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Naghem - You are one of the most-gracious people I've worked with, let alone met. Keep your head up and know that people like me value you and will step in if we see something like this happening to you, again, or to others.

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