A is a Portland high school student. She is Muslim of Somali heritage, her parents’ eldest child. She is thoughtful, engaged and politically aware. Lately, she has found much to be aware of.
“I am tired,” she told me yesterday. “I’m so tired. All of this, it’s like they don’t want us. It’s like they want to push us out. I don’t know what to do. I’m tired of protesting, I don’t want to protest anymore. Nothing changes. Never. I don’t want to protest ever again. I’m so tired.”
A is Somali, but she might as easily be Syrian, Iranian, Iraqi, Libyan, Sudanese or Yemeni. Here in Portland, these are our neighbors: Black. Arab. Muslim. Tired. Excluded. Alone.
So to every Portland-area Somali, Iraqi and Libyan, and to every Muslim who feels unwelcome, and, most importantly, to A: We see you. We are not blind to this, blind to the fear that has left you singled out and marked. “Black,” “Muslim,” “Somali,” “Woman” — these things do not scare us. These are part of your uniqueness, what makes you remarkable. Do not let others transform these into a yoke. Carry each of these labels proudly. You are black and Muslim and part of this community. There is no contradiction. You are welcome here because you are one of us, part of this city, this state and this country. You are the texture that makes this place rich, a gift to this country, an unexpected miracle that brings with it new life and renewed energy. You are a thread in Portland’s vibrant fabric, a key ingredient in this city’s thriving cosmopolitan present.
This is your city. It is as much yours as anyone’s, be they white, black, Hindu, Jewish or Christian. These distinctions are meaningless. If you love this place, if you invest in it, care for it, work to make it better, work to make it home, you will always be welcome here.
Some people may blind to you. They may fear your skin and your name for “God,” and they may reject your version of community. They may not agree with your vision for American greatness. They may accuse you of undermining their home and tell you to “Love it or leave it.” Pay them no mind. We will never be rid of such sentiments. The best we can do is soldier on unheeded by their taunts.
We live in a land of contradiction. At our founding, we declared “All men are created equal,” a line written by a patriot who was also a slaveowner. “All men” did not live up to its promise then, and it is still striving. But even as America is a land of contradictions, it is also a place for such striving. Since those words were first hatched, America has been swarmed with those pushing to live up to that original promise. You are now part of that striving, and in that, you are American, truly so.
This will be no easy walk, but you are not alone in it. We will stand beside you, stand with you, work to make your voice heard. We will work to make your blackness, your faith, your female character as equal as “all men.” Like you, we may not know how to push back the forces of bigotry, violence, and exclusion, but you will not push in alone.
This is Portland, your city. This is Maine, your state. This is America, your country. And we are your people. Ask us to stand with you and our voices will ring in your name.
It is okay to feel tired. It is okay to feel exhausted, to feel hopeless. But I write to remind you that you are not alone. I write to tell you that if your hope is spent, I will offer some of mine. I hope you will keep striving, like so many Americans before you, in search of that first promise, that most American promise: “Equal.”