Contrary to the famous poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty that calls out to the world, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” and setting aside the spirit and ideas of the great Founding Fathers onreligious pluralism, the United States has a history of hostility towards immigrant groups. And in this election climate, that patriotic stain has helped fuel the rhetoric of politicians like Republican nominee Donald Trump.
But long before the Trumps of the world talked of building walls and closing borders, America was exclusive. Many communities that settled in this country, I discovered in my year-long field study that resulted in a book and film both called “Journey Into America,” had to endure a period of hateful discrimination and often savage violence as they established themselves here. It would often take a dramatic bloody event, the death of someone ― or indeed the deaths of many members of the marginalized community ― before the group would become more widely accepted and eventually merge with larger American society. There is a distinct pattern that can be traced for this evolution: long decades of prejudice facing the community as it struggles to be a part of American life, a crisis which results in the taking of life or lives and finally acceptance by and into the mainstream. Though the experiences associated with each are unique and the alienation and isolation members feel may not completely evaporate, there comes a point in time at which the group ― and in some cases there is overlap between groups ― is met with something other than hostility. It is that threshold of assimilation Muslims in this country now find themselves at with the presidential election and the story of Capt. Humayun Khan and his family.