Today is my last day in America.
I came to the US in 2017 as a Fulbright scholar from Pakistan. A day before my arrival, arrived my sweetest, most humble cousin Sabika. We both were exchange students. In 2017, when I took my first touristy photo in front of the US Capitol Building, I did not know that 1 year later this place will become central to everything I would do in this country. Right after I finished my first graduate year, Sabika was brutally murdered at her exchange school.
Once you have seen murder so closely, the murder of your dearest, everything changes at its most fundamental level. The smell, the sound, the sight, the air that night, everything stands still, frozen in time. In July 2019, I finally stepped into the classroom where Sabika was killed. The utter helplessness of her final moments before being shot stands still, frozen in time, in that barren room.
After Sabika’s murder, I returned to the US with one purpose: To get a gun safety legislation introduced for her in the US Congress. In last one year, for every 1 step forward, there were 99 rejections. Especially as someone not from the US, I struggled at the most basic levels. I did not know who to approach, what to ask them, what to say during protest speeches, how to think, what to think.
I struggled to understand spoken English and find the right English words to appear smart enough to be taken seriously. To get attention to even the most critical legal developments about the shooting’s trial, I chased US & Int’l media. 9 out of 10 times, they refused to cover. As I patiently sat in gun violence committee hearings in US House, 9 out of 10 times, there was no mention of Santa Fe shooting. As I approached US Members of Congress, 9 out of 10 times they were not interested in the gun safety proposal I was working on. 9 out of 10 times I did not know the ‘how’.
In February 2019, I started coordinating with Office of Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee on a comprehensive Gun Reforms Act prepared diligently by Kristina Woods who lost her own sibling to gun violence. It has taken extreme discipline for me to understand policy writing, to decode the legality of US statutes, and finally prepare 3 gun bills from the original Act.
On July 26, 2019, miraculously on the very last working day before my departure from the US, I stood in the same building, the US Capitol, alongside 2 Congresswomen, and introduced ‘The Sabika Sheikh Firearm Licensing & Registration Act’. A first-of-its-length, historic bill which prescribes a complete process for guns and ammunition in the US to be licensed and registered. I now look toward gun violence prevention groups to ensure that this life-saving bill becomes law.
In these 436 days since Sabika’s shooting, I experienced a bit of the contentious US politics from within. From having humbling opportunities to speak at public protests in multiple US cities, to being a small part of one of the most progressive youth-led politics, to hearing from most disenfranchised communities impacted by gun violence, to deliberating with both compassionate and hawkish lawmakers in highest echelons of the United States, I have seen a world. With that, my time here is up as I return to my heartland Pakistan. Goodbye America.
Shaheera Jalil Albasit, Karachi, Pakistan