Being Muslim, and female, and an immigrant, I belong to at least three of the many groups that were hated and insulted in equal measure during this past election campaign. I had never been the cool kid in school, but it feels as if my popularity would be at an all-time low if a poll were taken right now. (Although, if nothing else, last year’s campaign taught me that polls mean nothing.)
There was an episode of “Sex and the City” where Carrie Bradshaw was unceremoniously dumped via Post-it note. “I’m sorry. I can’t. Don’t hate me,” it read. This election was America’s Post-it note to me.
I was dumped, unceremoniously. I felt unloved and unappreciated and spent hours eating raspberry chocolate chip ice cream, binge-watching “Game of Thrones” in sweatpants and wondering how I got here. I love this country, but I felt it wasn’t loving me back. Unrequited love is the worst.
And then, last week, I went out to get my mail, and among the bills and fliers and junk was an envelope from the White House. In it was a letter from Barack Obama.
Six months ago my second-grader harbored an obsessive love of all things presidential (unrequited love, obsessive love — I recognize a pattern here). So we took a trip to Washington, D.C. We visited the Capitol, the monuments, the museums. We learned that every day Obama’s staff has chosen 10 letters from the thousands written to him by the American people, and every night the president has read those 10.
So, of course, I wrote to him. I told him I worried about raising my kids in a time when their differences vilified them. I told him I worried that their Muslim names made them a target. I told him how, although we were big fans of his, we agreed that Michelle was cooler.
And he wrote back.
Love or hate Obama, the man has a way with words. “We are all one American family,” he wrote in his letter. “Our forefathers created this country for anybody who embraces its values — no matter what they look like, where they come from, or how they pray.”
When I was in third grade, I came under the impression that one of the girls had had a party and invited every girl except me. A few days of misery and self-doubt later, I found out that it was actually just a sleepover with her best friend. I felt the same way then that I did reading those words from our president.
More than comfort, I found a sense of relief. I could tear up the damn Post-it note.
On our D.C. trip, maybe because the sun was finally setting on a brutally hot summer day, or because the crowds were thinner than at other places, but anyway for some reason the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial was my favorite part of the visit.
While the kids took selfies with the statue of FDR’s dog, I walked around and read the quotes carved in stone: “We must scrupulously guard the civil rights and civil liberties of all citizens, whatever their background. We must remember that any oppression, any injustice, any hatred is a wedge designed to attack our civilization.”
For those of us who have felt sidelined because we’re women, or Muslim, or immigrants, or black, or LGBTQ, or because our hearts bleed for global warming or social reform — I know these are difficult times. However, I can’t agree with those of you who say #Notmypresident.
He is. And I have hope that, like Obama and FDR before him, he will speak for all of us.
Nina Hamza lives in Shorewood.