Dear Mr. President,

Dear Mr. President, 

I am writing to you today as a young, concerned citizen — as someone who relies on you and admires your work. I am a sixteen-year-old girl in the suburbs of Atlanta who looks up to your humble and diligent administration with faith and pride in the future, for the future is in your hands. 

Only recently have I made progress in grasping the true meaning of carrying the weight of the American identity. All of my life, I have struggled with the reality of being an Egyptian-American, Muslim, and type one diabetic in the matrix that is America. I have never fit into a generic mold. It is as if I am torn between two countries, swimming somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. 

Right now, I am a Junior in high school. Every time I take the SAT or fill out an application and come across a question that asks for my race, I check the box labeled “other”. In less than a year, I will have to erase my identity on more than ten college applications. But why? 

Because all of these institutions follow the lead of the US government, which doesn’t consider the Arab-American identity worthy of representation. 

In my AP United States History class, I have delved into our country’s roots. I have memorized the white names and white faces of our founding fathers. I have analyzed our faults, from the continuous disregard of the rights of Native Americans to the monstrosity that is the institution of slavery and the failure that is Reconstruction. But when I think of the painting of our country’s legacy, I don’t see myself in it. I am the daughter of first and second-generation Arab immigrants. My version of American history begins in 1969 when my grandparents set foot in Texas. Is this our country? Am I living in a different dimension, experiencing this place differently than you are? 

I have a memory from a few years back. I was young — probably only nine or ten at the time. I remember shuffling my feet into a restaurant and standing in line with my family to get our to-go boxes and chips. My ears picked up on the television muttering in the background. We need to kill them, it said. We need to kill them. The radical Muslim terrorists are hell-bent on killing us. They don’t operate the way we do. You can’t even reason with these people. My eyes wandered over to the screen with an angry, bewildered face — a face that I now know to be Jeanine Pirro, a Fox News host. Fleeting images of men with guns and headlines rushed to my head. 

Are they talking about me? The news shouldn’t lie. Are these Muslims the same kind that I am? For a moment, I hesitate. No, I think, I’m a good person. My family is kind, and our religion is peaceful. 

On September 11th, 2019, I sat at my desk in my World Studies class, anxious. My teacher announced that we will remember the events that took place eighteen years prior: the hijacking of four passenger planes, the collapse of the Twin Towers, the crash into the Pentagon, and the thousands of innocent lives lost. I sink in my chair, embarrassed, trying to hide the blood rushing to my cheeks. Every year, we watch as the planes pummel into the twin towers and destroy everything within a three-mile radius. Every year, I feel my classmates’ glaring eyes on my back. And every year, I am reminded of how much pain these terrorist self-proclaimed Muslims have caused to the reality of every innocent Muslim to walk the future of the earth. 

I have only ever known a world with 9/11 as an event of the past. I sometimes wonder if the grimaces and stares in the aisles of the grocery store would be different if I had lived in another time. 

I know that I have so much to offer to my country, the place I call home. There are times when I go to bed hoping that the country I love will love me back by the time I get up in the morning. 

But right now, my country doesn’t recognize me, or the approximate 2-million Arab-Americans like me, for who we are. When the US Census asks, What is Person 1’s race? , Both my parents are minimized by a checkbox labeled “other”. We are not White or African American, even though the law prescribes the White race to us. We are not American Indian or Alaska Native or Chinese or Filipino or Asian Indian or Vietnamese or Korean or Japanese or Native Hawaiian or Samoan or Chamorro. In the front of my mind, this question persists: how can my country love me when it does not love the entirety of me? 

The inaccurate and shameful classification of my people by US law makes us invisible. My culture is not White. My food is not White. My language is not White. Our lack of representation on the US Census leaves us out of important processes such as redistricting and benefits like grant funding. But I know, deep down, that you will stand by and for my cause and will not postpone action any longer. 

In your inaugural address, you have asked the American people to take a measure of your heart, and I have taken up your request. In your heart, I have found a humble, compassionate man who cares for his people and loves his family more than he loves himself. I found the qualities of a decent man who is well equipped to face the monumental challenges of his time. 

In nine years, I will be filling out the 2030 US Census. Will I pick up my pen and make myself and my ancestors proud, or will I be once again belittled and defeated by a checkbox on a paper, postponing the representation that my people deserve? Mr. President, that is in your hands to decide. 


Nour Khalifa 

This letter will be sent to President Joe Biden within the next week. If the President responds, we will post a photo and transcript of his response on the Laurel Leaf.