Plaza Voices: Different in America

Our regular contributor Naghem S. writes:

Being different in America is hard. I feel so guilty for saying that because I know how lucky I am to be here. But when I tell people I am an American, I am often met with disbelief and denial. I constantly have to prove that I am an American. I have to assert that I am a patriot, that I love America. I have to explain that my hijab isn’t a threat to democracy and freedom. I have to apologize any time there is a terrorist attack. No matter what I do, I am still other

Muslim American, Iraqi American, Mexican American, Asian American, African American, Native American, Somali American, the list goes on. Many people are proud to say what type of American they are, as am I. The problem is that being something-American can lead to "othering." Othering can be any action, intentional or otherwise, that classifies an individual or group as “not one of us”. Othering feeds into an us vs. them mentality, and that can lead to isolation, dehumanization, mental health problems, and violence.     

I’ve been an “other” for 22 years. I became an “other” the moment I stepped foot on U.S. soil. I’ve tried to ignore the attacks on my identity, and insist to anyone that will listen that I am an American. Until recently, I have been able to dust myself off and get back up on my feet. But the most recent attack on my identity has, so far, been too much for me to handle.

A few weeks ago, members of my mosque went on a peaceful march, as we do every year to commemorate the death of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him), the grandson of Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him). We passed out flyers and flowers during our march and explained why we were marching. Most people stopped us to ask questions. Some cursed us out and called us terrorists. We kept going. We have learned to grow tough skin.

Halfway through our five-hour march, a family of four women confronted us, yelling obscene things and telling us to go back home. I stopped to explain why we were marching, trying to give them our perspective. I remember telling one of the women that we were Americans. As soon as the word came out of my mouth, everything escalated. I won’t repeat what she said. She physically attacked me and total mayhem broke out. Someone came out of the house and pulled out a gun. He threatened to kill all the children with us. Another person was tased by the police and arrested, and my brother broke his hand defending me. Close to 45 police cars were called to the scene. But nothing else was done.

I can't stop thinking about this incident and trying to understand why this happened. I do everything I can to be accepted, but I don’t feel welcome. I have been made to feel like an invasive species. At times, I don’t even feel human, much less American. Because I am other.

For those experiencing the trauma of hate and discrimination, there is help available.

The Denver Police Department has a hate crime hotline to report incidents: 720-913-6458.

Colorado Crisis Services offers immediate, free assistance through voice, text, or chat, as well as walk-in appointments.

The Denver Public Library's Community Resources team is here to help people access services, or just to talk:

Central Denver: Matt Glover, MSW: (720) 865-3442
Work Schedule: Sunday - Thursday

East Denver: Sonia Falcon, MSW: (720) 865-0309
Work Schedule: Tuesday - Friday, third and fourth Saturdays with corresponding Mondays off.

West Denver: Alix Midgley, LCSW: (720) 865-2361
Work Schedule: Tuesday - Friday, first and second Saturdays with corresponding Mondays off.

To learn more about discrimination and hate crimes in the U.S., check out these resources from the Denver Public Library. 

Plazas are an open community space where people 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 web page for more information.

Written by Plaza Voices on December 2, 2018


Larry Maynard on December 11, 2018


Thank you for this.

There is a phrase in Spanish that comes to mind for me: Pena ajena.

Simply, it means to be embarrassed for others, like by their actions or attitudes or more. In this case I am embarrassed so much by how you and yours were treated so horribly by these individuals.

We "others" all have incidents we can recall in our lives. I remember growing up in Colorado Springs and my mom and us kids being called dirty "Mexicans" by a racist neighbor our whole lives. I asked my mom if we were the things he was calling us? Thank God my mom was a proud Mexican woman who taught me that yes, we were Mexican, and taught and showed us our great history and culture that small minded people do not care to often learn about others they fear or hate. I learned to hold my head high and be proud of who I was as a Mexican, and where I came from and to be open to share with those who are open to learning, and accept that sometimes a person will never get there, or get there in their own time. I KNOW I have changed the views of some people, about my people by being proud of who I am and willing to share and inform. And I am thankful that in America we have, for the most part, the constitutional freedoms to free speech, religion and liberty to live as we desire. I celebrate the other in you because it reflects the other in me. Larry

Cecelia on December 11, 2018


Larry--thank you. As my mother used to say when we pulled something obnoxious, uncalled for, or ungracious, "I'm ashamed for you." Not of you, but FOR you. Whenever I see attacks on immigrants of any nationality, it makes me "ashamed for" the perpetrators. When coming home from visiting my father last month, someone shot through the bus windows, presumably because the bus line has a Mexican name and the colors of the Mexican flag on it. Fortunately the only injury was a cut from flying glass and I had some antibacterial wipes for the lady. It didn't scare me, it made me FURIOUS.

Danette Baltzer on December 11, 2018


This breaks my heart. I sometimes feel so ashamed of my fellow country people that I don't even know what to say. I can not say "we are not all like that" because it does not matter. Too many are. People in my own family are. There is too much hate and too much violence. I earnestly hope for healing for you and your family and I will continue to work toward a better future- for you and all the families in our library community who have suffered from similar experiences.

Scott on December 12, 2018


Any one of us can become "other" at any time by becoming disabled, or, inevitably, just by growing older. You get a special parking permit, but people will see you as 'handicapped', not realizing that your main 'handicap' is their attitude.