BY ASHLEY JONES
RICHMOND, Va. (3-29-16) – During her senior year in high school, Ezoza Nomazov remembers opening her materials to start class in AP U.S. Government for the first time. While this is usually a recap of American history for many high school students, Ezoza’s experience was different. This was the first time she would formally learn about the American governmental system.
Now as a newly naturalized citizen, Ezoza, along with her brother Timur are following the 2016 presidential election in preparation to vote for the first time ever. Five years before their naturalization, the siblings’ journey to America helped define their views and found that it influenced their potential vote as Muslims.
Journeying To America
In 2010, Ezoza, 21, and Timur, 23, left Moscow, Russia, with their parents to move to Richmond. After their parents received green cards, they decided to join extended family members who were already in America to give their children a better opportunity.
Their mother, Mohira Nomazov, said getting a green card was a long process. You have to enter your information into the immigration system and wait a couple months or up to a year for the results to see if your family is chosen.
Ezoza and Timur are originally from Uzbekistan, an Islamic country on paper, according to Timur. Until 1991, there was no religion in the country and everyone was Atheist. He says that Uzbekistan’s practice of Islam is influenced by neighboring country Afghanistan, but it is not tolerated in reality. People are forced to practice Islam in secrecy.
Ezoza said America is different than Uzbekistan, because America is more accepting.
“You can practice your religion, including Islam here, [in America] freely compared to other countries, and [have] freedom of speech.”
Their mother added that moving to America, despite its challenges, was easier than continuing to live in Uzbekistan.
“There is no voice or democracy, so you cannot practice anything you want and you can’t reach your goal,” she said. “People want to escape.”
When they moved to Richmond, Ezoza entered her sophomore year of high school at the Collegiate School, while Timur started his first year of college at Virginia Commonwealth University.
While attending the university, Timur joined the Muslim Student Association.
Imad Damaj, the faculty advisor of VCU’s Muslim Student Association, said the organization is meant to support and promote understanding between Muslims, while connecting them to communities outside of VCU.
Timur said that while he did not intend to find the organization, it made a difference in his transition to America.
“Meeting the people who have the same culture makes it much easier,” Timur said. “For example, my English was not that good and [other MSA members] were helping with the classes because some of the guys there were taking the same classes. It helped me a lot.”
Mohira said she was proud to see her children receive the level of support and education they did while attending these schools.
“It was easy for [Ezoza and Timur] to adapt and go to schools and everything worked smoothly,” Mohira said. “My kids were taking classes and going to private school, and it was my dream to give them that.”
During Ezoza’s senior year of high school, she found her AP U.S. government class to be beneficial. She said it helped to pay attention, because it introduced her to the American system.
“For the reelection of Obama I was kind of learning all that stuff and hearing all those viewpoints and I was kind of preparing for my turn to vote. [The class] was an educational process for me and now it feels amazing to contribute to that and to vote and when you have an idea of how the whole process works, it’s pretty eye-opening.”
Suzanne Lewis, Upper School History Teacher and Chair at Collegiate School, said the AP curriculum for American politics includes the rise of political parties and how they work, and the voting process and interest groups. More specifically, the curriculum can focus on current events such as the 2016 presidential election.
She said the school also uses history and government classes to prepare students for voting.
“If [students are] naturalized or just 17, knowing they are turning 18 before the election, we try to get as many students to register as possible to get them excited about the election,” Lewis said. “We try really hard to get some energy behind it.”
Timur said he never received formal education on American government, so he learned the American system on his own. The voting system is different in Uzbekistan, so the election process was a new concept for both him and his sister.
Learning the Political Process
“When I was a kid I was always interested in politics because of my dad, he loved politics,” Timur said. “I got addicted to it and I knew politics about my country and in Russia, and now here in the States. For me it was easy to know what was going on.”
He said watching the debate between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney in 2012 helped him learn about the two-party system and led to more research on the election process.
“When I moved here I was astonished seeing that there were not direct votes,” Timur said. “It’s like a bunch of delegates. It felt a little strange. In my opinion it’s not the way democracy works. If you are going to look at the politics, democracy means when you are directly voting for any member of government, now I’m seeing it’s kind of different.”
Lewis said the Electoral College is not something other countries have adopted, and as a result can be a hard system to learn.
After five years of living in America as immigrants, Ezoza, Timur, and their parents became naturalized citizens in November 2015.
“Getting the citizenship, you have more opportunities and also represent America now,” Ezoza said. “I’m proud to be an American.”
Timur agreed by adding, “Now I can vote, which is essential to me so I can not just watch elections, but I can make my vote heard.”
Lewis said young voters like Ezoza and her brother have to believe their vote will have an impact in the election.
“The more people get involved in the process, the more they can say, ‘first [my vote] counts,’ and they actually care about policy and the direction the country’s going and you get a long-term voter,” she said.
The Muslim Experience in America
Timur said that while having the rights of American citizens is an empowering feeling, he believes the election’s radical candidates have changed the perspective of being Muslim in America.
“I think that because Islam is kind of a new religion and not many people know what it is about, I feel like people are still scared because they see all these terrorists overseas and think everyone is like that,” Timur said. “Or that there is a western type of Muslim and the radical types of Muslims.”
Damaj said the problem starts when people fail to take the time to fully understand the Muslim community. Muslims often think of how Americans view them, and that perspective has probably increased as a result of what has been said in the election and on the news.
“We have to explain who we are, and we don’t want anyone to own our narrative; it’s our narrative,” he said.
Sharing Their Views on the Election Ahead
Ezoza and Timur said they think Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump uses his candidacy and the media the wrong way, and only influences the negative view of Muslims in America.
“[Donald Trump] is giving such wrong information to the public about Muslims or any immigrant or any different kind of population and everyone starts following him,” Ezoza said. “Giving false information is not what a good leader does.”
“One way to speak up is to vote,” Damaj said. “To show some of these voices of negativity and hate that votes can make a difference and we’re going to make sure that whoever is elected to these offices, especially the president’s office, is not someone who is a negative person.”
Both Ezoza and Timur said they are supporters of Senator Bernie Sanders, R-Vt., because they follow his policies. They also convinced their mother to support him.
“I am close to his views,” said Mohira, who originally wanted to vote for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Democrat, simply because she is a woman. “That’s why I like him. I think he is more about humanity and I feel he is honest and is good to immigrant people.”
As immigrants themselves, the Nomazov family’s decision will come from a different perspective, however they still believe it will count just as much as the next vote.
“Because we are living in America, America is now my home, my country, so I have to be involved with voting,” Mohira said.
Islamaphobia and The Muslim Vote
Should Muslims Vote for Bernie?