Fourteen-year-old Kashmiri American Zaara Malik says the thousands of people who came out to support Kashmir in New York last Friday left her mesmerized.
The past month and a half or so has been nothing short of a whirlwind for me and our family.
My whole world has revolved around one thought: Kashmir.
Whether it has been meetings, protests or just attempting to spread awareness, this is all we have been doing.
I admit: I, as a first generation Kashmiri American who visited home each year, didn’t always feel connected to Kashmir.
Until my visit in 2016 that is.
Burhan Wani (the commander for a rebel group that fights the Indian army) was killed and I saw a different side to Kashmir.
I saw a revolution against India. The unrest lasted for six months.
This is when I learned the history of Kashmir.
I researched for hours and hours.
I found that the last three generations had been fighting to be free, to be on their own.
I thought to myself: Why is nobody saying something about this in the United States?
My passion to bring light to the conflict started from there on.
Even as an eleven year old I would search everyday to see if any media had picked up the protests in Kashmir. I was absolutely shocked when I found nothing.
Fast forward three years later, and media outlets as big as the BBC, CNN and The New York Times are reporting and talking about the issues in Kashmir.
Now thousands of people in the streets of New York City are advocating for Kashmir and Kashmiris.
Trying to put this past Friday into words is just as crazy as the events that occurred.
I saw thousands of people spending a beautiful Friday on the streets and shouting for something I care the most about.
Walking down the perimeter of the protest and seeing people all the way down the streets pack the area, yelling “AZADI” is a moment I will never forget.
Our struggle has become everyone’s struggle.
My motherland being saved isn’t a mission for just Kashmiris anymore; it is now for everyone against injustice. Regardless of race or religion or background.
My heart was overwhelmed with love and pride.
Thousands of people are yelling the slogans I’ve grown up listening to.
People are taking time out of their lives to support us and speak for our silenced voices.
Seeing people stop and stand in one of the busiest places in the world, Times Square, and read our posters and stand by our cause is a sight I will never forget.
Even being in total exhaustion after hours of standing in huge crowds, feeling the voices of people yelling freedom slogans are moments that will stay forever in my heart.
As I said before, being a first generation Kashmiri American, there are times when I haven’t felt as connected as I wanted to be to my roots.
But after the vigil and protest on Friday I have never felt more Kashmiri.
Growing up in a world where things such as Islamophobia and genocide can happen in the dark, I was immensely grateful to see so many people come and stand with Kashmir. It was a historical turnout.
I was able to speak to a police officer on Friday who was supervising the protest and he said even the security felt a bit overwhelmed after having thousands more show up than expected.
I felt a sense of pride and love wash over me in that moment.
Kashmir has been subjected to so much suffering, but if there was one thing I learned from Friday it was the power of the people will always overcome the obstacles that are thrown at us.
Friday was and forever will be one of the most important days of my life.
The story of people of all kinds coming together to help save my homeland will be the story I cannot wait to share to later generations.