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The Trump voter, the small-town Muslim, and the power of Pantsuit Nation

A Kwik Trip store in Owatonna was the site of an ugly moment from one Donald Trump supporter.

A Kwik Trip store in Owatonna was the site of an ugly moment from one Donald Trump supporter. Star Tribune

Fatima* needed reinforcements.

Of the snack variety. With a long night of studying ahead of her, Fatima, 19, headed to a nearby Kwik Trip in her southern Minnesota town of Owatonna (population 26,000). 

As Fatima surveyed the salty and sugary options before her in one aisle of the gas station, a man came walking up behind her. The man was in his 50s, with a scruffy beard and a hat on, wearing camo gear like he'd just come in from a hunt. 

To Fatima's surprise, the man started speaking to her. Angrily.

"Now that Donald Trump's president," the man began, "why do I still have to see Muslims? Go back to your own country."

Fatima turned away from the man, grabbed her food selections, and made for the convenience store checkout counter. The racist goon was still going on somewhere behind her, speaking to no one in particular. Fatima paid for her stuff and left, her heart pounding in her chest. 

The store had a number of other patrons in it at the time. No one said anything. 

Neither did Fatima, though that's in her nature. The teenager is extremely polite, and non-confrontational, and so soft-spoken it would be hard to hear her speaking voice on a windy day. Besides, she's used to it.

"It's one of those things that's really disappointing, but it's not new at all," she says. "I've dealt with a lot of different racism and harassment -- all the time in my life, sadly."

All of that life has been spent in small-town Minnesota, where Fatima was born, living first in Faribault. Her Somali-Ethiopian parents immigrated to this state a quarter-century ago, and their daughter's got roots here now. She works full-time as a pharmacy technician, and is studying human resources management at a nearby college.

She's planning to transfer to the University of Minnesota for her junior year in fall 2017.

Fatima's close friends, almost all of them white, small-town kids, have been unfailingly supportive of her during this brutal election campaign. When Donald Trump started campaigning on the idea of deporting Americans, and suspending all immigration from Muslim countries, Fatima's group went out of their way to tell her she was welcome here.

Others around her, not so much. 

"On Facebook, even people I went to high school with, extremely, extremely pro-Trump," she says. "I didn’t want to unfriend these people but, it’s like, 'What has happened to you?' Seriously, the person who was sitting next to me in math class, sharing articles about Muslims and Somalis?"

Fatima's joins other stories of racist or hateful behavior in Minnesota since Tuesday's election: Black students in Maple Grove encountered racist grafitti, and a swastika was painted onto a jogging path in St. Paul. (A story of racism on the University of Minnesota campus went viral, but has since come under suspicion.)

The jarring experience at the Kwik Trip left Fatima wanting a little more validation than she could normally expect. She posted about the racist confrontation in the Facebook group Pantsuit Nation, a private but massive collection of Hillary Clinton supporters, telling that group she was "proud to be an American."

There followed an outpouring of support, as literally thousands of other Americans offered Fatima words of encouragement and comfort. Some told their own stories of discrimination. 

"The support is just tremendous," she says of the Facebook group. "It makes me feel better. This is a pretty fucked-up story. But I've had much worse things said to me.

"That forum, Pantsuit Nation, has really uplifted me, and given me courage."

Fatima says she's also heartened by the small, supportive gesture some people have started, sticking a safety pin on their shirt, up near the collar. It's a subtle statement of welcoming for minorities, refugees, and immigrants who might feel targeted in these stressful, uncertain days.

"I have seen a lot of people wearing it in my town," she says. "It makes me smile."

*Editor's note: City Pages has changed the name of the subject of this story after she began receiving harassing and threatening messages and phone calls.