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Now, More Than Ever, Virginia Needs to Follow Tom Perriello’s Lead Against Hate and Bigotry

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by Mariam Fikre

My father Fikre Mariam Million first came to the United States in the 1960s to attend a Naval Training in San Diego, CA as an Ethiopian Naval Officer. He fell in love with America instantly; he highly admired and deeply respected its ideals. Ideals such as all men are created equal; liberty and justice for all; innocent until proven guilty; government of the people, by the people, for the people; checks and balances; separation of church and state; freedom of speech; freedom of the press, to name a few. Ideals that were non-existent in his own country. The American dream was also something that deeply resonated with him and what he aspired to, dream that was nearly impossible to achieve in his country, unless one was from the right type family and/or had the connection and money needed. So when he went back to his country after completing his training, he left vowing to himself that when he gets married and have kids, his children will grow up in America.

In 1983, I along with my family migrated to America to escape a communist dictatorship government to live in the land of the free and rule of law and pursue my father’s American dream. My father left a job he loved at Ethiopian Airlines and we left the rest of our families, friends, our home and everything we have ever owned and known behind and settled in Alexandria, VA. He worked very hard holding two full time jobs to support a family of 6. After three years of being in a new country, he managed to buy a house in Woodbridge, VA where we moved to in 1987 and even succeeded in putting all for four of us through college.

The American dream that my father loved so much and instilled in all of us to achieve is sadly at a direct threat and no longer a reality for far too many, not just for new comers but even for its own citizens. If we had moved to the United States today, what my father was able to achieve will be nearly impossible where the cost of living is so high, the price of higher of education is higher than it has ever been and home ownership is almost unattainable. A country he loved and felt deeply indebted to until his death, a country which opened itself and welcomed him and his family and gave all of us the opportunity to achieve his dream is sadly being pushed by few who stand to gain, to become fearful and intolerant of newcomers and those who look and believe different.

Ideals that my father deeply admired and valued, ideals that truly make America the greatest country and beacon of hope of many is also at a direct threat, where immigrants just as other community of color, are being scapegoated by politicians seeking votes and targeted by those mislead enough to believe immigrants and people of color are responsible for taking away their jobs, when the opposite is actually true.

In a political climate where hate is being fanned and fear is being stroked to gain vote and distract the public, now more than ever we need bold and progressive leaders and citizens alike to follow the lead of Tom Perriello, who worked tirelessly and no doubt will continue to – to be an inclusive state and a firewall against hate and bigotry, becoming a model for the rest of the country to follow.

As a mother of three young children all of whom are born in America, I want my children and all of our children, to grow up in an inclusive America where every single child, regardless of their race or background has equal opportunity to succeed and reach his/her God given potential. I want my children to feel and be seen for the American that they are and not be looked at and targeted as other. As we naturally continue to shift to a more diverse country, it is no longer easy to identify at a glance who is American nor even define what an American looks like. Our strength has always been and will always be our diversity, so for all of us to win, we need to embrace and celebrate it and not fear and resist it.

As immigrant Americans who fled totalitarian dictatorship governments, we are well too familiar with how to detect the start of it and its recipe for success and never forget its direct long lasting consequences. We also know firsthand whenever one group is pinned against another and hate and fear are used as a political tactic to keep people divided, that no one ever wins. To continue in the path we are heading, will ensure nothing but that divided we will all indeed fall. The only way we can all rise and succeed is when we stand united as one with real understanding that a threat and injustice to any one community is truly a threat to all of us. If my father was alive today, a proud American and an unwavering devoted Republican, I always wonder what he would feel and say about what is transpiring.

As a naturalized citizen, I love our country deeply and find its founding principles brilliant and worthy to be protected and defended by all of us, as we all push ourselves and each other until its ideals are realized by all. It saddens and scares me greatly to see us a nation reverting further and further away from our ideals, each time we come closer to realizing it, by breaking and modifying our principles to fit our narrow fear based belief. Too many have worked, sacrificed, bled and died for us to come this far for us to revert back to the past succumbed by fear and ignorance or sit by silently overcome by cynicism and indifference.

This moment in history is calling on all of us, no matter our race, religion, ideology, gender, sexual orientation and/or political affiliation, to rise past fear and hate and come together as one people with a common cause – to make life better for all of humanity. To achieve that, we all need to find the courage within to challenge ourselves and each other to eradicate our own fear and ignorance by getting past our comfort zone and getting to know one another as human beings. Likewise, we also need to hold all our leaders accountable, no matter their party, and demand that they leave behind past tried and failed divisive policies and lead us all into the future with inclusive policies that will work for all of us.

Tom Perriello’s vision of being inclusive and firewall of hate and bigotry is a conscious and moral call for each and every single one of us throughout the entire country to answer and do our part to ensure it comes to fruition, by demonstrating the same integrity and moral courage and working tirelessly like him to keep Virginia and our country moving forward united, for all our sake. Now just as ever, we all need to aspire and commit to honoring the founding principle of our country and not rest until the ideals of America are realized by all, no exceptions.

Mariam Fikre
Proud American and fellow human being