Muslim Protest Meets Chinese Lunar New Year

A Tale Of

While some New Yorkers will spend the next few days uttering a kind “Guo Nian Hao,” others were told “we are ALL Yemini.”

In a unique pairing of events, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, whose website touts “diversity as strength,” hosted a rally in support of Muslim shop owners protesting Trump’s recent travel ban while simultaneously leading a much quieter celebration of the Chinese Lunar New Year.

Held on Borough Hall’s famous rear steps, the rally comprised a sizable chunk of Brooklyn’s estimated 650,000 Muslim population, with many waving American flags and bearing hand-made signs in protest of Trump’s recent executive order banning nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries – including Yemen – from travelling and in some cases, returning, to the United States.

Although the order was recently stayed by several judges including U.S. District Court Judge Ann Donnolly of Brooklyn, it continues to draw global ire from citizens here and abroad, with European heavyweights including Germany, France and Turkey stepping forward to denounce the executive order.

Muslims and Yemeni-American Bodega owners protest President Donald Trump’s order to ban travelers from seven Muslim countries. Photo By Michael Wright

The rally coincided with Adams’ call for Muslim store owners to shutter their doors from noon until 8 pm, many of whom originate from one of the “Forbidden Seven.” The stores they operate — once known as bodegas because they were largely owned by Latinos — are now run by first-  and second-generation Yemeni-Americans and can be found in almost any inner-city neighborhood, sometimes several to a block. Equally known for their access to hot and cold sandwiches, lotto, loose cigarettes and on occasion, a place to charge one’s phone, as they are for their 24-hour convenience; very few, at least in Brooklyn, ever close their doors to perform their five daily prayers.

The closings, however temporary, impacted many throughout Brooklyn – in particular, communities of color where the stores often-times serve as the lone grocer in the myriad of food deserts within those same communities.

As the City’s Public Advocate Letitia James proclaimed, “Say it loud, say it clear – immigrants are here to stay…we are strong together, and we are united, because. We. Are. Muslims Todaaaaaaaay!

James was joined by City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, who greeted the mostly male-crowd with a robust “Assalamualaikum,” before adding, “I’d like what I’m saying to be heard. Today is a very emotional day, but we are all united, and in solidarity. We are here across communities, across faiths, to say that we are America.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams at the protest outside Brooklyn Borough Hall. Photo by MIchael Wright

The crowd reacted with wild shouts of U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! After the cries died down, she continued. “I was deeply moved by what I witnessed here today, so thank you all for what you do for New York City, what you do for this country; we are all one, we are united and we will push back!”

While the City Council released an official statement condemning Trump’s immigration order, a number of New Yorkers are experiencing a horrifying push-back of their own. Ugly, uncivil, and largely silent, these domestic wars have been unfolding everyday on New York soil. Namely, the struggles of African-American mothers whose children have been involuntary “deported” to the home countries of their fathers–all of them shop owners, most of them Yemini, some of them possibly standing alongside the throngs of protesters.

Smaller voices also emerged through the furor. I spoke with a Kensington resident, whose neighborhood has seen its Muslim population explode since the 1990’s. “With all due respect to the religion, I don’t think they’ve had their reformation.”

In stark contrast, Adams’ Chinese New Year ceremonies started with little fanfare as the Borough President began the program minutes into the rally’s mid-day prayer. Inside, the Hall’s interiors brimmed with bright trimmings in celebration of the Year of the Rooster, whilst protestors shouted into the darkness. Later the borough president would slip out of his golden kimono and bright-red sash and into a blue parka emblazoned with ‘Brooklyn Borough President’ to address the teeming crowds of demonstrators.

In a statement released to KCP, the Borough President expressed, “what could be a better reflection of the diversity that is One Brooklyn than an incredible patriotic protest by Yemini-American bodega owners outside Brooklyn Borough Hall at the SAME time as a joyous cultural celebration of the Chinese New Year inside the building! The People’s House is alive and very well.”

Yes. For yesterday, we were not only all Muslims, we were all Brooklynites.

Happy New Year.

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