An Astoria shop owner who was viciously assaulted at his store in December 2015 will witness President Donald Trump’s first address to a joint session of Congress in Washington, D.C., tonight.
Sarker Haque, the owner of Fatima Food Market located at 21-37 21st Ave., was assaulted by Piro Kolvani, 55, of Jacksonville, Florida, who shouted “I kill Muslims” while he repeatedly punched Haque in the face.
Many Astoria residents were surprised that this incident could happen in their neighborhood, known for its diversity, and sprung to action, creating a Facebook page to brainstorm ideas that would show support for Haque and his family. Fatima Food Market was flooded with posters, flowers and get well cards.
Local politicians held a rally in front of the store to denounce the attack, arguing that the rhetoric of then-candidate Trump encouraged this kind of behavior.
Congressman Joseph Crowley, a Democrat, announced on Friday, Feb. 24, that he invited Haque to attend Trump’s first address to Congress as his guest.
“President Trump has demonized Islam and the Muslim-American community since he first announced his campaign for the presidency – attacks that only continued after his inauguration,” Crowley said. “This rhetoric, along with the announced travel ban against seven predominantly Muslim countries, goes against everything we stand for as Americans. This is why I’m so proud that Sarker Haque will be my guest at President Trump’s joint address next week. The victim of an anti-Muslim hate crime, Sarker is emblematic of the American dream. He immigrated to this country in search of a better life and now owns his own business in Astoria.”
Haque, who suffered a black eye and lacerations and bruises to his lips and face during the attack, said he is excited to visit Washington, D.C., and is glad that his assault can shed a light on the growing anti-immigrant sentiment in this country.
“Millions of Americans like me should not be divided,” he said. “We are long time in this country, we are hard-working people in this country. We are citizens, hard working people. [President Trump] should not divide us [by] color, religion, whatever it is. That is not in this country’s constitution.”
Haque emigrated from Bangladesh to the U.S. when he was 21. He’s lived in the community for more than 30 years and has owned Fatima Food Mart for 16 years. His five children attend local public schools, including Stuyvesant High School, a college preparatory school focusing on science, technology, engineering and math.
“I am 30 years in this country,” Haque said. “I am 51. I have family. This is my country now; I cannot go [back] to Bangladesh.”
Haque added that banning large swaths of people based on their religion or nationality is “not the American way.”
The shop owner will take a 2 1/2-hour train ride from Penn Station to D.C., where he will watch the speech from Capitol Hill at 9 p.m.
“When the president speaks to the country on Tuesday, he’ll also be addressing Sarker – a business owner, a proud American, and, like the president’s family, an immigrant who came to the United States in search of the American dream,” Crowley said. “I hope President Trump remembers this as he prepares for the significant responsibility of addressing the nation.”