Chicago, IL —
Klider Hakim is excited and certainly emotional for Tuesday, Feb. 7, when he leaves his home in Uptown and heads to downtown Chicago to officially become a U.S. citizen – a moment he feared might never happen.
After all, Hakim, now 30, started the process of becoming a U.S. citizen 10 years ago. But he was denied then. He applied again at age 27, and again was denied.
For his third shot, Hakim got help from Sidetrack
co-owners Art Johnston and Pepe Pena, and a lawyer was hired. It worked.
"It has been a long journey ... I will finally be a United States citizen," said Klider, known to many at Sidetrack, where he has worked as a bartender for almost four years, as Kleed.
"With all the changes that are quickly approaching, I cannot wait for Feb. 7 to (get here). I cannot deny that this process has given me a lot of anxiety. I have had many invitations from close friends to travel abroad and was not able to because I did not have a U.S. passport. I've put in a lot of time and money into this process and had many depressing moments. I do not have to wait for another letter from the USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) anymore, so that's a great feeling."
Klider was born in Baghdad, Iraq, moved to the U.S. on March 3, 1995, and is openly gay, which of course is taboo in Iraq.
He hasn't been back to Iraq since he was 6, but still has memories of that country:
"Waking up in the morning to my mother getting my siblings ready for school, helping my dad water the garden, playing hide-and-seek in the dark because during the war we did not have electricity, and getting my first stitches trying to find a missile that was dropped by our home," he said. "Looking at how the media presents Iraq is so different from what I remember. It was like living in a city. We had buses and cabs, maybe fewer restaurants."
A few from his father's side of his family still live in Iraq.
One day he'd like to return to Iraq – to visit his dad's grave.
Hakim attended school in Michigan – middle-school, high school and college.
Most of his mother's side of the family live here in the U.S.Sidetrack
has certainly become Klider's adopted family.
And when Klider officially becomes a U.S. citizen, Sidetrack
is throwing a party, naturally, in his honor: Party in the USA with AmeriKleed, which starts Tuesday, Feb. 7, at 9 p.m. "Help us celebrate a very special day for Kleed, and all of us (who) count ourselves lucky enough to work and be friends with this amazing Iraqi-American," it says on Sidetrack's Facebook page. "We'll be playing all his faves – Taylor, Miley, Beyoncé, Nicki and more."
has truly given so much already," Hakim said. "I feel very lucky to be where I am with Sidetrack. I can have a really bad day and go into a job that can change that quickly after I get there. There's always someone from the staff (who) I want to see and I know that's not something that many people can say about their job.
"For Art & Pepe to even say that we should celebrate and throw a party when I first told them the news is very emotional. For Bryan Smith to ask me what I would like at the party and what music to play is a wonderful feeling. For Bradley Balof to share tears of excitement with me when I told him I finally passed my citizenship test, it's incredible, to say the least. The entire Sidetrack
team has been so sweet with their words and excitement for me. It's pretty damn amazing.
"Working at Sidetrack, I have the opportunity to (meet people from around the world), and of course one of my all-time favorite memories has to be (the) 2013 New Year's Eve party, (when) I was working security. That was my first New Year at Sidetrack
and I had the opportunity to be a New Year baby. This pretty much entailed me getting on the bar in my underwear to pour Champagne into costumer's glasses for a few minutes. I was on the (bar) with my bestie, Caesar, and it was a chance for me to let loose. It is still the best New Year and one of the best memories I've had at Sidetrack."
family, at least a large contingent of the crew, will be alongside Hakim when he takes the oath as a U.S. citizen. They wouldn't miss it.
When asked about what's been going on lately with President Trump's executive orders regarding the travel ban for those from seven Muslim-majority countries, including his native Iraq,, Hakim simply replied, "Very confusing."
He added, "When you start banning people from this country for race, religion, creed, color, or anything of the sort, (it) is the same thing as saying that those people are not equivalent to our society. You're giving people permission to hate other's ethnicity and you're making up a false image about them."
So, Klider, what would you say if you could have a 1-on-1 meeting with Trump?
"Oh Donnie," Hakim began, "I know that I'm not your favorite color and being a gay man, my words (do not) mean anything to you, but, you have a chance to become a man who people could look up to and respect. You have the power to do some great things for our country and for many people around the world. So please grab a blanket for your cold heart and lead in a different direction."
Hakim said the thing he's most looking forward to as a U.S. citizen also is pretty straight-forward: voting. "Being able to vote during the federal election for sure," he said. "I have never voted and cannot wait to do so.
"Becoming a U.S. citizen is sure going to help me sleep much more comfortably. This was all I've wanted the past few years. I already feel so much more relieved."