Immigrants often have a tough time establishing a foothold in American society. The journey can be even more difficult for musicians who come from immigrant Muslim households, where we must first battle family and cultural values to pursue a path seldom taken. We must then fight for admission to conservatories and music schools that seem to have a place only for those who have grown up taking music lessons and attending music camps. The charmed path is out of reach for immigrants from Third World countries who are usually under tremendous pressure from childhood through college to stick to professions where jobs are secure, and which pay a living wage. Add to this a passion for big band and bebop music and you have a perfect misfit in the family and on the bandstand.
Don’t pile on, Mr. President. The performing arts need diversity as much as our other institutions and, given the opportunity, the handful of Muslims aspiring to a life in music can make as robust a contribution as have immigrants in other walks of life. Jazz is an American creation that was born of and supported by what America truly is — a country of immigrants. These creations are what make America great. Wynton Marsalis once said that jazz “teaches you the very opposite of racism… it teaches you that the world is big enough to accommodate us all.” In my own path, I have learned this to be true. The celestial realm of music is a place where details like age, race, gender, nationality and class simply do not exist.
Mr. President, you have the power to inspire or discourage a climate of inclusiveness. Embrace us: Muslim-Americans just want the same opportunities as their non-Muslim counterparts. When it comes to musicians, we strive to humbly do what music was created to do: lift the human spirit and magically bring together people of different cultures in peace and love. America does not need a travel ban, it needs harmony. Please be kind.
The viewpoints expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and official policies of Davidson College.