It's something no child should see. Shaima Alawadi, an Iraqi immigrant, was found unconscious this past week by her 17-year-old in their California home. Alawadi was beaten to death with a tire iron in her own dining room, and the teen who found her says there was a note left near her body that labelled the mom of five a terrorist. "Go back to your country," it read. How ironic. Tragically ironic.
Alawadi didn't have anywhere to go back to. She was killed in her own house. She was in HER country. The note allegedly left by the mother's killer betrays not only the probability that this was a hate crime but the root of the immigration debate in America.
That's what immigrants do. They move. Just like I've moved from New York to Virginia, Virginia back to New York, in my lifetime, Alawadi and her husband picked up their lives and moved from the wartorn country of Iraq to America sometime in 1993 to escape the war. They lived first in a predominantly Muslim area near Detroit -- the type of community detailed on the short-lived TLC series All American Muslim -- before moving to El Cajon, California.
By all indications, Alawadi's family is here legally. They are Americans. They are raising their five kids as American citizens, going to American schools. Just as my great-grandfather and great-grandmother did after immigrating to this country from Germany. Just as so many of our ancestors did. America is a country made mostly of immigrants, from the Pilgrims on. This is our country. We have no place to "go back to" because this is where we live, work, pay taxes, vote.
Just as the shooting of innocent teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida recently betrays the division between black and white that plagues us even in a post-Obama world, the tragedy in El Cajon is shocking evidence of anti-Muslim sentiment that is rampant in America a full decade after 9/11, and of the anti-immigrant fervor that's been building in the past few years. From the now infamous "show me your papers" legislation that swept through Arizona's legislature and has sparked other states to make racial profiling common, accepted practice, to the debate over the DREAM Act, nativism has once again become socially acceptable.
It's become acceptable to call a woman in a hijab a terrorist just because, to shout from the rooftops that our president must be "hiding something" because his middle name is Hussein, to think it's OK to kill an innocent woman of five children in her own home because you want her to "go back" to Iraq.
And this is American? This is patriotic? This is progress? Because a woman was beaten to death in her own dining room, left to be discovered by her child?
I can't help but wonder at the killer's ethnicity. Is he German? Perhaps his great-grandfather was called a worthless Kraut like mine. Is he Catholic? Perhaps his great-grandmother had a cross burned on her lawn like mine. Maybe he's Irish, and his grandfather was called a no-good Mick and not given a job. I could go on, but I don't need to, do I? Nativism has treated each ethnic group badly over the centuries, and each group has worked to overcome baseless stereotyping. And yet, for their successes in integrating into America comes follows a new generation with a new people to hate, a new group to castigate and feel "better than."
In this case, it's a Muslim woman, an Iraqi immigrant, an American.
Shaima Alawadi was one of the huddled masses who came to America yearning to breathe free. She became an American only to have one of her own countrymen strike her down in the name of his America.
His America is not my America. Is it yours? Do you see this story as a hate crime? Watch her daughter's sad story, and see if it changes your mind:
Image via sittiealiah/Flickr