[Editor’s note: Saeed is a South Orange resident. The following is the text of a speech she gave at the SOMA Action Rally held on Monday, which she also gave at a community round table held by Congressman Donald Payne that morning. Rep. Payne read Saeed’s statement on the House floor that evening.]
I am the American dream realized. I am the first born American child of my father, Ahmed, and my mother, Rafia, immigrants from Pakistan. My father came to this country in the late 50’s. He came on a student visa to Berkley to study for a master’s degree in engineering. He would go on to obtain today’s equivalent of an H1-B visa and work as a civil engineer for the state of Illinois.
In the late 60’s, he would go back to Pakistan, marry my mother, a woman who matched him in intelligence, education and ambition, she also had her master’s degree, hers in English Literature and was a professor of English at the University. They would have two children in Pakistan, my older brother and sister, and then in the 70’s they returned to the United States. This time my father obtained a work visa, then a green card and eventually became a citizen along with my mother and siblings. Upon his return, he found a job as a civil engineer for the state of New Jersey. He worked for the state for a little over 40 years before retiring. He designed the bridges, tunnels and roadways that we all know and drive today; that we cannot live or work without.
A Muslim-Pakistani immigrant worked loyally for the state we all live in to ensure we have the necessary infrastructure that is vital to our continuing development. Without immigrants like my parents, we as a nation would not be where we are today. American lives would not be saved by the huge community of Muslim doctors, like my brother, who tirelessly care for our nation’s sick. Americans would not receive fair and equal legal advice without Muslim lawyers, like my husband. American children would not receive the crucial education they need without Muslim teachers and administrators, like my two sisters. This immigration ban is an attack not just on Muslims, this ban is an attack on our community, on our safety, on our rights, on our future and on our humanity.
I am an American citizen, born in Bristol, PA, not far from where William Penn settled in search of religious freedom. My husband is an American citizen, born in St. Louis, MO. My three children are American citizens all born in New York City. I have always been grateful for being an American and the sacrifices my parents made to afford me my American dream. And yet, every day since the Republican nominee for President was announced, I have feared for my safety and the safety of my family. I hold my breath every day, praying, that the day will not come that I need to flee my home for fear of retribution or worse because of my faith. An American citizen’s fear that America is not safe for them is why South Orange’s status as a sanctuary city is so important. We must protect our community because without its’ immigrants and citizens, we have no chance to maintain the beauty of what makes SOMA so great.
My father believed in this American dream for me and my siblings. He loved this country. He was also a deeply spiritual man. He would go to mosques of all different groups. One day to the South Asian one; another day to the Turkish one and another day to the African-American one. I asked him why doesn’t he want to have one community to connect with and go to just one mosque. He said, “Because God doesn’t want it that way. We were made to be with all people, not without.”
So with that, I would like to leave you with a passage from one of the Prophet Muhammed’s sermons:
“O People, your God is one. There is no virtue of an Arab over a foreigner nor a foreigner over an Arab, and neither white skin over black skin nor black skin over white skin, except by righteousness. Have I not delivered the message?”