By SAMANTHA HENRY
Anum Hasan has seen many conflicting visions of America: the hope of a better life that brought her family from Pakistan, the hate-filled act that ended her father's life in the name of American vengeance and an outpouring of compassion that her family has come to feel is the true face of the country they now call home.
"I think about what story I'll tell her one day about what happened to our family," Anum Hasan said, cradling her 1-year-old daughter Aisha on her lap. "It's important for her to know there's always a lot of hate going around in the world, but there is so much more good."
Hasan's father, Waqar Hasan, was shot to death four days after Sept. 11, 2001, in Texas, targeted by a white supremacist looking for revenge against Middle Eastern men for the terror attack. The family had every reason to want to leave, but on Friday, Hasan's widow and three of her four daughters were sworn in as U.S. citizens.
It was what happened in the aftermath of Hasan's killing that reinforced the family's decision to remain in the U.S.
The doorbell of their Milltown home did not stop ringing. Letters started pouring in. Hundreds of phone messages from across the country were left with their local congressman, decrying Hasan's killing. Fruit baskets and baked goods were brought to their home. Neighbors in their small town organized a candlelight peace vigil and Waqar Hasan's widow, Durree Hasan, recalled her amazement that the elderly, infirm woman who lived next door had found a way to attend the vigil, despite the pouring rain.
"It never occurred to us we'd have to leave [America]. It's home," Durree Hasan said. "We never thought to leave, even to another town. It's a very small town, but like a big family; very supportive."
Durree Hasan, 45, of Milltown, was joined by her three American-born grandchildren clutching small American flags, and her four daughters; Nida, 28, of Mapleshade, Asna, 26 of Edison, Anum, 25, of New York City, and Iqra, 22 of Milltown.
The women wore full Muslim hijab, or headscarves and long garments, and three of the daughters wore niqabs, or traditional Muslim face coverings, as they participated in a moving naturalization ceremony Friday at the New Jersey office of U.S. Rep. Rush Holt, with officials from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
"It was his dream come true today," Usna Hasan said about her father, moment after she was sworn in as an American citizen. "It was his dream that became our dream, and it's an extreme sense of accomplishment, of overwhelming joy and gratitude."
Waqar Hasan was shot in the head and killed on Sept. 15, 2001, as he grilled hamburgers in a Dallas convenience store he had opened that year while Durree remained in New Jersey with the children, working the midnight shift at a factory that makes drinking cups.
White supremacist Mark Anthony Stroman admitted killing the 46-year-old Hasan, thinking he was Arab-American, as part of a series of revenge attacks for 9/11. Stroman was executed last year for the October 2001 killing of an Indian immigrant. He was never tried for Hasan's killing.
Durree Hasan and her daughters faced the threat of deportation as a result of Hasan's death, because their visas were tied to his.
The family, who emigrated legally, had been living in Milltown, in central New Jersey, when Hasan moved to Dallas in 2001 to search for a home and open a convenience store in hopes of eventually relocating the entire family. He had applied for a green card, but the application became invalid when he died.
U.S. Rep. Rush Holt intervened in 2004 to give them permanent legal residency, introducing a rare "private bill" in Congress that granted the family legal resident status. He hosted the naturalization ceremony Friday and marveled at how the women he'd met a decade ago had grown from teenagers into married, working women with families.
"It's a story of bravery, perseverance and ultimately, I think it's a story of justice and compassion," said the New Jersey Democrat. "Our laws have imperfections, but America continues to strive toward fairness and community and compassion, and that's what you see today."