The American Muslim congresswomen apparently have a secret weapon: grandmothers.
Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, speaking simply and eloquently along with another strong woman, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, explained to the international media that her grandmother told her not to come visit her in the West Bank village where she lives: “She said … I’m her free bird. So why would I come back and be caged and bow down when my election rose her head up high, gave her dignity for the first time?”
And so the private statement of a woman to her granddaughter becomes a political statement. A courageous woman forgoes a visit by a beloved granddaughter, admittedly because of a political situation but truly, out of love and respect. For a minute, she reminded us of our common humanity. And that is, apparently, a very dangerous thing.
For we all have grandmothers, and for many of us, especially women, grandmothers can be a source of uncommon strength. So a funny thing happened. Women writers thinking about Tlaib and her grandmother — one in Washington DC, the other in the West Bank — began their opinion pieces with memories of their own grandmothers.
Aside from throwing an uncomfortable beam of light on the continued Israeli presence in the West Bank, these pieces illuminated a more shadowy area: It is women who disproportionately bear the burden of families that split up, daughters and granddaughters living oceans away from their mothers and grandmothers.
The split is more than physical distance. Writing in +972, Nooran Alhamdan waxes nostalgic about her teta rolling grape leaves on the large dining room table. Alhamdan and her parents moved to New Jersey when she was six. “In a small house in New Jersey lived an entire legacy of homeland and dispossession, of Jaffa and Alexandria and Cairo,” she writes. In her piece, she describes returning to Jaffa to find her grandmother’s house, only to realize she cannot, in fact, find the house, and she is left with her memories.
With a simple sentence or two – just the words of a little old lady in a remote village – Tlaib revealed her secret weapon – one so dangerous she cannot be allowed to travel freely in Israel, cannot be allowed to see the situation here with her own eyes.
And yes, those who prefer the status quo to change, who rule by fear and promote the belief that one people cannot be free without subjugating another: These people should fear. Because even when their houses are torn down, and their families scattered over the globe, the gifts that grandmothers pass down tend to live on, whether it is the taste of stuffed grape leaves cooked with lemon or the will to live life freely, on one’s own terms.
Oh yes, they should be very afraid of the grandmothers.