Immigrants Show Their Support at the Black Lives Matter Protest in D.C.

Javaneh Pourkarim speaks out against racism in immigrant communities toward black people, at the Black Lives Matter Protest in D.C., June 4, 2020. An Iranian American and attorney, Pourkarim is organizing education material to teach older immigrants about black communities. (Video/Athiyah Azeem)

As an impromptu speaker’s corner emerged at Lafayette Park during the Black Lives Matter protest Thursday, an unlikely person took to the megaphone. 

“Racism in immigrant communities is very rampant,” announced Javaneh Pourkarim, an Iranian American immigrant. Protesters cheered in agreement–one black woman yelled “thank you” in response.

“Over the past few days, I’ve seen a lot of concerns for–I hate these words but, for looting, and rioting from my Iranian American community.” Pourkarim later told The Immigrant’s Bay. “It seems like they have no understanding of the human suffering behind these protests.”

Systemic racism against the African American community by immigrant Americans is a developing concept within intersectional sociological thought. Arab American Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer discussed on NPR Chicago how respectability politics cause nonblack immigrants to assimilate with White Americans, and reject the black community. By dissociating with the black community, they were more “respectable” to white people. 

Pourkarim is an attorney for the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau. She and other Iranian American lawyers are organizing an education series to teach the history of the black community in America to other, older immigrant Americans.

“It is incumbent on us, the young immigrants,” she announced to the crowd, “to make sure that our communities understand the problems with systemic racism, with keeping the black community marginalized, and start educating our children at home.”

“Immigrants for blacks!” she cheered, and the crowd cheered right back.

Zach and his father, Iqbal Sayyid march at the Black Lives Matter protest in Washington D.C., June 4, 2020. They were actually taking a day trip to the White Hose–but decided to march with other protestors. As a Pakistani immigrant, Iqbal finds it important for his son to see displays of freedom of speech. (Video/Athiyah Azeem)

Iqbal and Zach Sayyid were on a father-son day trip.

“We were planning to go to the White House, until we saw the march,” said Zach Sayyid, as he idled on his bicycle. 

“Do you want to march?” Iqbal, his father, asked. Zach nodded his head and started cycling along the crowd, with Iqbal not far behind.

“This is good, he needs to learn,” said Iqbal, pointing at his son. “In this country, you can talk about justice, you can talk about peace and you can do it openly. You can do it right in front of the President’s house.”

The Sayyids are from Pakistan, a country infamous for using police force to curb political dissent. A 2019 review by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, a nongovernmental organization, detailed how enforced disappearances of the politically opposed are prevalent in several regions of the country.

“Unfortunately, that’s what the President [Trump] wants to turn this [U.S.] into,” said Iqbal. “We want to make sure this doesn’t happen.”

Palestinian American Christian Tabash speaks out against police brutality against black people in America, Black Lives Matter protest in D.C., June 4, 2020. He condemns how U.S. police utilize tactics taught by Israeli forces, who similarly employ such brutality in Palestinian-occupied territories. (Video/Athiyah Azeem)

“Folks, listen up,” said Christian Tabash, as he addressed hundreds of protestors on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Tabash is Palestinian American, son of a refugee from Israel.

“The deadly exchange, is where U.S. FBI, U.S. military, U.S. cops…go to Israel, they go get trained in Israel, and they come back here, and use those…inhumane racist discriminatory to brutalize black folks–and we say it’s enough!”

The knee-on-neck tactic employed by George Floyd’s murder, Derek Chauvain has been recognized as a staple method used by Israeli defense forces against Palestinian occupied territories. Minneapolis Police officers have also been trained by Israeli officers, notably in a 2012 Israeli-American security conference, held jointly by the FBI.

“I’m hurt for my Palestinian family, for my black family,” Tabash later told The Immigrant’s Bay. To Tabash, the fight against racism against black people in America is a united effort, across race and citizenship status.

“This is a collective project. We all need to use our voices, we need to politically mobilize, we can organize ourselves in communities and stay true to truth and justice.”

The Immigrant’s Bay will be live tweeting (@ImsBay) Black Lives Matter-immigrant news at BLM protests in Maryland and D.C. ImsBay founder Athiyah Azeem (AthiyahTA) will be live tweeting general Black Lives Matter news.

To This Immigrant Baltimore Mayoral Candidate, History is Repeating

As Baltimore’s homicide rate rises, with nine people killed over Memorial Day weekend, the city’s mayoral candidates are ramping up advocacy to turn this city around. To one former candidate, Baltimore is experiencing a violence she is all too familiar with from back home. 

Liri Fusha is an immigrant from Albania who came to the United States in 2008. She escaped political tensions within her family back home and was a nurse during the Kosovo War in 1998.

“I was lucky that I didn’t get shot,” Fusha told The Immigrant’s Bay, as she detailed her experiences in the war. For 48 hours, she was trapped in the temporary military hospital she worked at.

“The bullets were flying all over the operating room we were working in. It was very scary. Very, very scary.”

When she could finally leave, she saw a man shot in the thigh in front of her on the street. She said she tore a part of her blouse, and tied up his thigh. But it had hit an artery. “His blood was like a waterfall.”

Fusha sees a similarity between her experiences in the Kosovo War, an armed conflict between the Yugoslavic military and Kosovo Albanian rebels, and the Baltimore protests and riots of 2015.

“Slowly, slowly, slowly, the economy was shrinking every time, and it was really getting bad,” she said. “One day, we just blew up. Burned everything. Like Baltimore in 2015, they burned.”

Now, Fusha sees Baltimore’s rising crime and unrest as another warning sign. Baltimore’s homicides have been above 300 since 2015, and in 2019 saw its highest rate in history. Before suspending her campaign, she ran on a campaign to curb crime through government transparency and reducing corruption within the Baltimore police force.

As an immigrant candidate, however, she has faced some resistance, including an incident with a friend last Thursday.

“He said, ‘why are you running for mayor?’” said Fusha. She recalls being shocked, and replied “because I see things, they that are not right here in the United States, which are happening back in my country.”

“And he said, ‘why don’t you go back to your country?’”

Fusha stated she finds herself explaining again and again, that just because she finds problems with Baltimore and America, it doesn’t mean she dislikes being in the country. Additionally, she said, she is a U.S. citizen now. “This is my country.”

This is not the first of struggles and discrimination Fusha faced as an immigrant in the U.S. When she first visited the country, she did not know any English, and found that success in America was predicated on her command of the English language. 

Some mistake her accent. Once while playing poker, a player she beat told her to go back to Russia. 

“Everybody tells me I’m Russian. Everybody!” she exclaimed.

But to Fusha, America is her safe haven. Back in Albania, she was facing increased pressure for being a democrat, years after the fall of communism.

“My uncle, my dad’s brother, when I got back from the United States…they were telling me that somebody’s gonna kill you,” she said. In America, Fusha said she is able to exercise her beliefs freely, and not face persecution. 

Facing a lack of support, Fusha has now suspended her campaign and endorsed candidate Ricky Vaughn, who also suspended his campaign and endorsed top candidate Thiru Vignarajah. Vignarajah is the only other immigrant candidate in the race.