On a cold February morning in 2017, I pulled into the parking lot of the community college where I had spent the last 15 years as a professor and administrator. I could not get out of my car. For the first time in my life, I was overwhelmed by a panic attack.
I had driven to work listening to my local public radio station, and that morning the reporters were highlighting the current administration’s relentless pursuit of the Muslim Ban. What triggered my panic was not so much the deliberate and callous way the administration sought to criminalize people and communities on the basis of their faith, but rather the casual ease with which we were now willing to accept — as legitimate legal action — this assault on our democratic values. And I had to wonder: do I, a Muslim American who has lived in this country for close to 50 years, have a home in this country any longer?
It was at that moment, sitting in my minivan, that I realized I had a choice. I could remain unheard, unseen, and unrepresented; or, I could speak out, be visible, and dare to claim for myself and other marginalized communities the right to full participation in our democracy.
When one decides to run for office, the first question people usually ask is “Why are you running?” I have lots of reasons for running: I want to improve our public education system; I want to protect a woman’s right to choose; I want to enact common sense gun safety reforms; and I want to preserve our environment for future generations. All of these very critical reasons inform why I am running, but my true catalyst came at that moment in the car when I asked myself, am I still accepted in America, as an American?
I decided to run for the State Senate because in 400 years of the General Assembly — the oldest legislative body in America — Virginians have never elected a Muslim woman to office. I decided to run for the State Senate because if marginalized communities like mine don’t stand up for ourselves, we can’t expect others to do it for us. I decided to run for the State Senate because on that cold February morning, the words of Langston Hughes, one of my favorite poets, came back to me: “I, too, sing America.”
I, too, sing America: I support her promise of democracy, and — in 2019 — it is important that we understand that Ghazala Hashmi is an American name.