After Donald Trump’s administration rolled out an executive order (which is now on hold) to ban travel of citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries, as well as continual promises to seal the U.S.-Mexican border with a wall, people rallied on Twitter to protest the administration’s anti-immigration policies. Under the hashtag #ADayWithoutImmigrants, protesters proposed a boycott calling for immigrants to stay home from school or work, abstain from shopping and close their businesses for the day in effort to highlight to contributions of immigrants in both American business and culture.
In the midst of a hectic schedule with celebrity clients like rapper Cardi B and jack-of-all trades Keke Palmer, stylist Mikiel Benyamin planned to attend a local protest in support of the boycott. The 22-year-old New Yorker, who immigrated from Egypt at 11 years old because of his parents’ growing concern over the political climate in the Middle Eastern nation, wants to show his solidarity with fellow immigrants through his support of #ADayWithoutImmigrants.
Benyamin spoke with Billboard about his struggles adjusting to U.S. culture, how being an immigrant has shaped his work ethic and what he does in his career to support immigrant communities.
What was it like immigrating to the U.S.?
When I moved here, I did not fit in at all. I didn’t have any friends here. I learned English a little bit in Egypt, but my English wasn’t really good when I moved here. As Middle Eastern male, I have gotten negatively stereotyped against in school. I felt insecure. When you’re young and still trying to figure things out and you come from a completely different country, [you deal with] bullying and language barriers.
How has immigrating from Egypt influenced your work?
It’s influenced my work ethic because I push a lot harder for what I do because I’m from somewhere else. I feel like I need to not only make a name for myself, but also stand up as an immigrant. I also feel like I given this amazing chance to live [in America] that I’m very grateful to have, so I need to push even harder and take advantage of this chance I was given.
I don’t know if I take influence from Egypt [when I’m styling clients], but with everything I do, I try to stand out and be different because I’m from a completely different country.
What is your stance on the backlash against immigration by the current administration?
I like to keep myself out of politics, but I’m paying attention to it now more than ever. It’s horrible. It’s not what America stands for at all. It’s not freedom. It’s a really scary time for us in this country. It’s just not peaceful. People are getting blocked [from entry into] this country that worked so hard to be here. I’m a refugee myself. I could’ve stay [in Egypt] and who knows what would’ve happened to me as a gay male growing up in an area like that in the world.
How do you feel about #DayWithoutImmigrants protest?
I’m planning to go out and support the protests. We can’t stay silent. We have to continue telling everyone around the world that we don’t stand by [these anti-immigration policies]. We’re defending the rights of people who are just trying to have clean water and go to school [or work] every day.
How do you use platform to bring attention to immigrants’ struggle?
I work with designers who are refugees themselves. A friend of mine, Ashish, is an Indian designer in London and he’s been designing from London for about 10 years. He does great runway [outfits]. He’s also a refugee. He focused on that in his collection this season and he’s someone I like to support to highlight the subject [of immigration] with my clients and styling.