How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'We are not the terrorists. You are.' (Video)

Whatever you think of television news interviews with crime victims, this interview with the 17-year-old daughter of Shaima Alawadi, an Iraqi immigrant beaten to death in a possible hate crime in El Cajon, near San Diego, is so powerful that is is difficult to watch at times.

Fatima Alhimidi, who found her mother's severely beaten body in her home last week, spoke to the local station KUSI a few days ago while her mother clung to life in a San Diego hospital. She defiantly addresses a hateful note that she found next to her mother:

"I found her on the floor drowned in her own blood, with a letter next to her hear saying 'go back to your country, you terrorist.' We are not the terrorists. You are. Whoever did it. We don't know what color you are, but we do know one thing. You are not Christian, you are not Muslim, and you are not Jewish. You are someone without a religion, because if you know God, you would know God would not accept that."

Alawadi, who was beaten in the head with a tire iron, died Saturday. She was 32 and the mother of five children. Her oldest daughter said she found evidence of a break-in at their home in El Cajon, a suburb to the east of San Diego that since the 1990s has become the nation's second-largest destination for Iraqi immigrants. Many have arrived as refugees since the start of the most recent U.S.-led war, while others have roots there dating to the first Gulf War.

The entire note has yet to be released by police, but apparently a similar note was found outside the family's home prior to the beating. According to the Associated Press, the family had moved in recent weeks to El Cajon from Michigan, and the victim's husband had worked in the past on contract with the U.S. government as a cultural adviser for troops.

Family members have said that Alawadi observed Muslim standards of modest dress and wore hijab, the traditional head scarf. Some Iraqi immigrants in El Cajon are Muslim, while many others are Chaldean Christians, a religious minority in Iraq. KPBS in San Diego interviewed several Iraqi Americans who live in the neighborhood and are rattled by the the killing. From the story:

On a commercial strip a few blocks away, people trickle through the Main Street Meat Market.

Ramez Kadhim, the shop owner's brother, says he is afraid. He arrived from Iraq just six months ago, and says Alawadi¹s murder has shattered his notion of what moving to the U.S. would mean.

"I'm afraid about my brother, about my sister. I'm afraid! Because someone like this one maybe kill me," said Kadhim.

But Bassam Yousif, the shop's butcher, steps out from behind the counter, where he says the murdered woman frequently bought halal meat for her family.

He said he's never felt discriminated against living in El Cajon, and still feels safer here than he did in Baghdad. But the murder still baffles him.

"They are a normal family and a simple family. Why? Those are our questions. Why they kill her? I don't know," said Yousif.


Since Alawadi's death this weekend, there have been inevitable comparisons to the shooting death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida last month. Like in Alawadi's death, there is believed to be a racial profiling component, and some of the social media comparisons have addressed profiling in the context of what both victims wore: A hijab and, in Martin's case, a hoodie. "Hoodie or hijab - this needs to stop," one person tweeted. Protests are being planned, including a "Hoodies & Hijabs" rally next Thursday in North Carolina.
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