“I’m very concerned about the dialogue going on in the country right now because I’m well aware of this cycle that we go through as humanity. My dad’s Jewish family came here to get away from oppression and death.  My great grandmother came via Russia in 1902 and all of the family that stayed there, that didn’t leave, is dead. Why? Because of this kind of us and them separation that grows and grows and grows and that separation becomes hate, becomes fear, becomes ‘they are less than us therefore they don’t deserve anything and we can now wipe them out.’”

Maryam, the daughter of Christian and Jewish converts to Islam, was born in Tucson and raised in Abiquiu. She’s New Mexican through and through and even has the norteño accent to prove it. These days she lives in Albuquerque, where she plays a vital role in her community as an emergency room nurse and as a volunteer self-defense teacher for girls and women. At heart, she’s a caretaker, and it shows in the warmth of her smile.

But even though Maryam plays such a pivotal role in the community, some people treat her like she doesn’t belong. The hijab she wears makes her instantly recognizable as a Muslim, and she’s frequently been the target of harassment.

 “I work in an emergency room which can be very hectic and crazy. We had one guy who was very agitated and just angry in general and he jumped out of his stretcher. I told him he needed to calm down and he was like ‘F you Iraqi bitch!’ and then he ran around like crazy.  And it’s like, really?  I’ve never even been to Iraq.”

 “I work in an emergency room which can be very hectic and crazy. We had one guy who was very agitated and just angry in general and he jumped out of his stretcher. I told him he needed to calm down and he was like ‘F you Iraqi bitch!’ and then he ran around like crazy.  And it’s like, really?  I’ve never even been to Iraq.”

More recently, Maryam and her friend were harassed while shopping in Costco.  A man, with a small child in his shopping cart, kept walking past them over and over again, yelling out insults about the Prophet Muhammad. Being attacked in “broad daylight” as a White woman makes Maryam particularly concerned about her Muslim sisters of color as well as her sisters with foreign accents.

 “I’m a tall White woman.  I carry my head up, my shoulders are back, and I don’t walk with an intimidated demeanor and I get harassed sometimes. If that’s what I’m facing, that really, really makes me think my sisters who have an accent or if they’re dark skinned or are at all intimidated or timid, they have it really hard. They have it really hard and they are not safe.”

Maryam refuses to let these incidents of harassment and intimidation paralyze her.  As a volunteer self-defense teacher, she’s empowering other women and girls in Albuquerque, some of whom have been physically attacked or have fled persecution from Syria, to protect themselves. 

“It is women who get attacked 99.9 percent of the time? Why?  Because we wear scarves on our heads and we look like Muslims.  So, that’s why women are being attacked. I will walk away every single time if it means everyone is going to be safe, including the person that’s being harmful. But be ready to fight if you have to,” says Maryam.

And, she adds, be ready to spring into action, to change the community dynamics that are harming and disempowering certain groups of people.

 “Don’t just be afraid.  Fear is a valuable asset if you utilize it.  If you let it freeze you or you become so afraid and you isolate yourself and can’t function, you don’t help anybody else.  If you have a little bit of justified anger you can actually use it for a lot of good and it helps grow and heal society.”

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