On the evening of President Donald Trump’s inauguration, University of Kentucky student Malak El-Amri and her siblings received a text from their father.
Abubaker Amri, a Muslim immigrant from Libya, had returned from work to find a handwritten card in his Cincinnati mailbox.
It would still be another week before the new president would announce his ban on migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries, including Amri’s. But many Muslim families were already unnerved by the rise of Islamophobia during the campaign and feared what was to come.
So Amri hoped his children would find some comfort in the words he found waiting for him on Jan. 20:
“Today begins a new stage for our country. No matter what happens, please know there are still a lot of people who will fight for your right to practice your religion, to continue your lives without discrimination. You are welcome in our neighborhood and if you need anything — please knock on our door.”
For El-Amri, 19, a sophomore at UK, the note left for her father from a family in his neighborhood affirmed what she’d felt throughout the campaign.
She grew up in Lexington in a post-9/11 world, where she often felt like an outsider, she said. She wears a hijab, and kids taunted her, calling her “Osama bin Laden’s daughter.” But in the past year, with the treatment of Muslims a flash point of the presidential campaign, she had never felt more accepted, she said. More than ever in her life, people smiled at her like they were making an extra effort to be kinder, to be warmer, to let her know they supported her.
“I’ve never felt more welcome or more American than during Trump’s rise,” she said. “It was really nice to get this letter and know people are out there and want us to stay here. It’s just as much our America as it is theirs.”
Her father, now 65, moved to the United States from Libya as a student in 1978. Yet ever since Trump’s election, he’d felt unsettled about the country he’d lived in for four decades, where he has raised a family and started his own small business.
He doesn’t know the neighbors who left the note very well; they wave and offer a warm hello when they see each other. But their note felt to him like “when you’re sleeping and someone wakes you up from the dream,” he said. The people around him recognized the changes coming and they cared.
In just a week, thousands of people would pour into airport terminals and city streets and in front of the White House to protest the Trump administration’s travel ban to show they care too. Their voices are louder than those who are hateful.
“I see them at the airports now, it’s not just my neighbors, it’s a lot of neighbors,” Amri said. “It tells me that people are not passive. They see it not as a plight for Muslims, but a plight for the country itself.”
Trump’s ban may have a direct impact on Amri’shis family. One of his daughters was born in Libya and is now studying abroad. She’s an American citizen, but he’s worried that she’ll be detained at the airport when she comes home this summer.
When Amri sent the text of the card to his children, his son responded and asked his father if he was afraid of Trump.
“No,” Amri wrote back. “Because this [letter] proves there are good people all around us.”
The note also found its way to Amri’s niece, Hend Amry, a well-known Muslim voice on Twitter, and she shared the image with her 129,000 followers. It was retweeted and liked more than half a million times. Then, in a subsequent tweet, she wrote: “This is the America that took us in as political refugees, the America that gave us a new home, & the America that keeps my hope alive today.”
“For these neighbors to leave this at his door, I personally felt very grateful,” Amry said later. “They didn’t have to do it, not only to extend their support, but their material support. (I tweeted it) to show people this is the America I know. These are the people I grew up with. The good people outweigh the number of bad people for sure.”