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Alyssa McLemore’s grandmother called to tell her to come home early on a Thursday evening in April 2009. The 21-year-old’s mother had a serious autoimmune disease and was not doing well.
McLemore, a member of the Aleut tribe, was only about six miles from the home she shared with her three-year-old daughter, mother and other family in Kent, Washington, a sprawling city just south of Seattle. She agreed to get on a bus and head back.
When over an hour went by and McLemore still hadn’t shown up, her family had started to worry. The young woman with a cheery personality and a penchant for dancing was close with her mother and young daughter, and devoted much of her time to taking care of them, according to her aunt, Tina Russell. It wasn’t like her to not come home, she told the Guardian.
A few hours later the family received a knock on their door from two Kent police officers. They said McLemore had called 911 asking for help, and they had come to see if she was home.
“At that point, we were trying to tell the police we don’t know where Alyssa is, she’s been gone,” said Russell. “We got the standard, ‘You have to wait to report her missing, she’s grown, she can leave when she’d like. She hasn’t committed any crimes.’”
Four days went by before the missing persons report was filed and the investigation into McLemore’s disappearance was officially opened. Ten years later, her family is still looking for answers.
“Every time a body’s found, our whole life comes to a halt,” said Russell.
McLemore is one of thousands of Native American women and girls who have disappeared in the US, but her case is almost impossible to put into context, because there is no single federal database tracking how many people like her go missing every year.
According to FBI figures, Native Americans disappear at twice the per capita rate of white Americans, despite comprising a far smaller population. Research funded by the Department of Justice in 2008 found Native women living on tribal lands are murdered at an alarming rate – more than 10 times the national average in some places.
But with nearly three-quarters of American Indian and Alaska Natives living in urban areas, those crimes are not confined to reservations or rural communities.
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SEATTLE – WHEN terrorists crashed planes into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Yussef El Guindi stopped writing. The Arab-American playwright’s career had only just started to take off, but stunned by the magnitude of the tragedy, he avoided his craft for weeks.
He also started noticing nervous glances in his direction as he walked down the street. He was pulled aside for airport security checks. He quietly wondered what police would make of his research materials: books on Islam, Palestine and guns.
When he returned to his craft two months later, it was with a deep determination to counter the one-dimensional view of Arab-Americans all around him. He started writing a play that followed an Arab-American writer as he’s endlessly interrogated by government agents after they discover his collection of pornography and the Quran. “Back of the Throat” became El Guindi’s first full-length published play and won the 2004 Northwest Playwrights’ Competition.
Almost two decades later, the Muslim writer who was born in Egypt, raised in London and lives in Seattle, has published 10 additional plays, won more awards and has been called by the artistic director of one theater as “the definitive voice of Middle Eastern American theater.” In other ways, little has changed in the United States. El Guindi says restrictive laws aimed at immigrants, harsh rhetoric and underlying fear and suspicion of Arab-Americans and other minority groups have strengthened his resolve to tell those stories, including his latest, “People of the Book,” which opened this month at Seattle’s ACT Theatre.
The new play fulfills his long-held desire to address the repercussions of the Iraq War and misinformation spread about it. As in all of El Guindi’s plays, he seeks to create complex Arab and Muslim characters. They help illustrate a seemingly obvious, yet often overlooked, idea: Just because two people are from the Middle East, doesn’t make them the same.
“The most radical thing I’m doing is creating three-dimensional Arab and Muslim characters,” he says. “I’m humanizing the people who are dehumanized in news stories.”
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