These have been busy times for reportage illustrators, as it seems like every day since the inauguration is a new change of policy and a new protest in response. Here in NYC, there have been many protests in response to the 90 day travel ban on 7 Muslim majority countries, along with a lot of hopes and prayers from the immigrant community, and legal aid from the lawyers.
New York City has always been an immigrant port (since around 10,000 BC, when the first Native Americans arrived) and matters of immigration affect us very directly. Last Thursday the Yemeni owners of many of the city’s delis and bodegas, a staple of life in NYC, went on strike from noon to 8 pm, to protest the travel ban on their home country. They held a rally in front of Brooklyn’s Borough Hall. I went over that evening with my artist friend Julia to see what was happening.
The rally had been going on since the afternoon, and we arrived as the speakers were finishing and the large crowd was beginning to break up. The atmosphere felt almost celebratory: Brooklyn police stood silent watch as the immigrants played instruments, danced, and praised the United States, even as they protested the executive order that would keep many of their families apart.
There was an ABC news reporter there conducting interviews. This man (above) said he was thankful for the opportunities that America had provided for him and his family. He asserted that he feels “part of the community”, and then said, “God Bless America.” Another young man, a Yemeni-American, talked about how his parents came to this country, and raised eight children here. “It’s the American dream, you know?” he said. And a woman spoke about how New Yorkers had embraced the Yemeni owners of their local bodegas after the President signed the ban: “They rushed into the stores, to see how they could help.”
The next morning, I drove over to Terminal 4 in JFK airport, to attend and draw a Muslim Jummah prayer to be held for families affected by the travel ban, sponsored by the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) and the Islamic Leadership Council of Greater New Yrok. Muzna Ansari of NYIC opened the ceremonies, and introduced a 91 year old Holocaust survivor, who spoke in support of the immigrants. She related most to the Syrian refugees, remembering how she and her family had run to America from the Nazis many years ago.
As a young Jewish girl in Germany, she recalled being hated and sometimes, being pitied. “For many of us,” she said, “being pitied is worse than being hated.”
The non-Muslim spectators (allies, as the NYIC called them) formed a protective human chain around those offering prayers.
Imam Al-Hajj Tali ‘Abdur-Rashid, from The Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem, gave the khutbah, or sermon. The Imam spoke about a world free of poverty and referenced Martin Luther King’s “beloved community” where everyone looked out for each other. He then told the worshippers that to his mind America that didn’t need to be made great again, but instead, was “evolving to a perfection of it’s greatness.” I like that idea.
I am not familiar with the prayer rituals of the Jummah, but there was a lot of getting up, bowing, and kneeling to kiss the ground in a very short amount of time. After the prayer ended the men in front of me grabbed their shoes and (I can imagine) were happy to put them back on in the cold air of the Terminal 4 parking lot.
One of the men looked at me drawing, and apologized that they did not move more slowly during Jummah prayer for me to draw. Cute.
As everyone began to move away one more woman got up to speak at the podium: Tahanie Aboushi, a Palestinian-American woman and one of the volunteer lawyers working round the clock at JFK to help incoming immigrants with their claims.
The group, #nobanJFK, was set up inside the terminal, and it seemed that there were as many lawyers volunteering their time as there were people waiting to speak with them.
The air smelled of coffee, and everyone was busy. People waited nervously to be called by the volunteers, hoping for the right answers to their questions.
All these lawyers volunteering to help, protests around the country, and most recently the ACLU bringing the case to court: as of this writing, federal Judge James Robart has overturned the restrictions of the travel ban. This was then appealed by the White House administration; then that appeal was denied, and there will be a through legal review. Checks and balances at work in our government; it is going to be interesting to see how it all gets decided. But it will be more than interesting for many people waiting to be reunited with families; it will be a life altering event.
At the time I made these drawings last Friday, I wondered what would happen to the father and daughter in the drawing above, and felt happy for the family in the drawing below, who were reunited that afternoon at the airport. I hope that many other families can soon be reunited as well.