For the past many months, in election rally after rally or in television studio debates, as Donald Trump spoke about the ban on Muslim immigrants or building a wall, Nazneen Patel and Ali Abidi cringed.
The polarising discourse made them uneasy in a country Nazneen was born in and Ali grew up in. Today as America votes to elect its new president, the young couple are uncertain about what lies ahead.
"As a Muslim, as a first generation American, certainly things that Trump has been willing to say terrifies me. But in the end I am an American citizen and I think both Hillary and Trump have contributed to this descent into just complete idiocy on both ends. I am afraid of what is going to happen after November 8, no matter who wins," says Nazneen
A public school teacher, Nazneen has been married to 33-year-old Ali, an ad agency executive, for nearly four-and-a-half years. A Patel Muslim born in the US, Nazneen's parents belonged to Baroda in Gujarat. Ali was seven when his father, a retired army man moved from Lahore in Pakistan to New York.
The two met at a music concert in Chicago as young students and fell in love. They grew up in an America which was pretty tolerant they say. But the 9/11 attacks changed it all and their Muslim identity paved the way for uncertainties.
"I think for me I came of age when 9/11 happened and I was 16. I grew up in New York and New Jersey at that time. It really impacted the way my political viewpoint and worldview developed. America has to feel like it is in charge. When there is uncertainty in the world there always has to be some kind of target. This is a long ride that Muslims will have," says Nazneen.
Ali, who grew up in a white part of New York City on Staten Island, was in the first year of college when he saw the twin towers go up in flames as death and destruction struck America. And soon not just the whites, but even the South Asians would turn on an impluse and watch Muslim kids in the neighbourhood with suspicion. Ali says that feeling of discrimination returned to haunt this election season.
|The 9/11 attacks changed tolerant America. (Photo credit: AP)
"I feel that years 2001 to 2005 were very tense and things then calmed down but it feels like we are in the same place right now. A lot of it has to do with rhetoric that Donald trump has been stoking," Ali says.
But to him, it is not just one man who can be blamed. "Somewhere that hate has always been there and you needed someone to wake up the giant. And that is what Trump did. He woke up those people who were at the margins of society, like who had extremist crazy views that what America should be like, he woke those people up and now they feel empowered," he adds.
Nazneen is bracing herself for a possible surprise when Trump makes it to the White House, and hopes there will be some checks and balances that will come into play.
"When you are an other, whenever you hear news that there has been an explosion or a mass shooting, we sit with bated breath that please please please don't let this be a Muslim. And when it is, we kind of brace ourselves and there is that unfair expectation that we have to be the eyes and ears of the police force. That is not fair," she says.
In a corner of their drawing room, soft lights shine on a poster with the Insha Allah inscription on it, while a painting of Krishna is framed on another wall. A little Ganesha sits atop their bookshelf as they discuss what awaits America, come Tuesday.
They feel it's going to get worse before it gets better because society has found its dark side and it will take decades to weaken the culture of hate which has been reinforced through election jingoism.
"You can legislate tolerance, but you cannot legislate acceptance," says Nazneen, as she gets absorbed with reading the latest election headlines on the web.