By Lisa Fernandez
The San Jose Mercury News
August 14, 2002 - While some teens are spending their dwindling summer days hanging out by the pool or the mall, several dozen other Bay Area young people talked Tuesday about what it means to be an immigrant after Sept. 11.
An ethnically diverse group of 60 students participated in the three-hour session at the Chandni restaurant in Newark, the first-ever meeting between the American Civil Liberties Union’s Howard A. Friedman First Amendment Education Project and the American Muslim Alliance Youth Think Tank, a group dedicated to getting Muslims involved in the political process. AMA is based in Newark and has 95 branches nationwide.
The students, ranging from junior high to college students, were from San Jose, Redwood City, San Rafael, Hayward, Milpitas, Vallejo, Berkeley and Oakland. Some were born in the United States, while others were emigrants from countries such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
“This is really cool. I’ve never been to something like this,” said 15-year-old David Cruz, a Menlo-Atherton High School student and a participant in the ACLU project. “This is really tight.”
Much of the discussion focused on how immigrants especially dark-skinned ones say they’ve experienced discrimination and harassment in the post-Sept. 11 world.
Sadia Mohsin, 18, of Milpitas, said her family suspects their home was being watched by the U.S. government following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
“We could hear people tapping our phones,” Mohsin said, in reference to calls made to relatives in Pakistan. “It gets annoying. If it’s for everyone’s safety, then tap everyone’s phone.”
But feeling discriminated against also taught Mohsin about compassion for others.
“I didn’t understand what it meant to be Japanese in an internment camp until now,” she said.
Each year, the ACLU picks a weeklong summer project for its youth group to explore. Topics have included police brutality, corporate America, the sex worker industry and homelessness, said ACLU adviser Viviane Scott. This year, the youth chose immigration, including a component on Sept. 11.
Tuesday marked the third day of the ACLU’s field trip. Earlier in the week, the group visited Angel Island, an anti-hate group in San Francisco and a Latino day labor organization.
Scott said it took some research, but eventually the ACLU found a partner for the Sept. 11 component: the American Muslim Alliance’s Youth Think Tank. The youth group was started two years ago when AMA National Chairman Agha Saeed, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley and California State University-Hayward, noticed that first-generation immigrants weren’t easily grasping how U.S. laws were passed or how to lobby politicians.
So Saeed formed the Muslim youth think tank believed to be the only one in the country which has grown from 12 members to nearly 100. Samina Faheem, coordinator of the Muslim youth think tank, was thrilled with Tuesday’s discussion.
“It was marvelous,” she said. “Better than everyone expected.”