The US immigrant Stories website has updated so you can submit to the website and world directly online if you don’t feel comfortable emailing. Above is the link but you may press the “i” next to the title and it will pop up there.
An instructor and I were talking after class earlier this year. The conversation was going great until she asked, “So what foreign country did you say you were from again?” I tried not to laugh and ended up saying “California”, the place of my birth, instead of Washington, D.C., where I graduated high school, to minimize her embarrassment and maximize the distance from where we were standing in Massachusetts.
Conversations like this happen a lot in my life. My instructor meant no harm, but coupled with other life incidents of discrimination including verbal abuse and hate crimes all because of my heritage, it’s no wonder I feel like a stranger in my own land. Because of these painful experiences I know what it is like to be treated like an outcast, but I refuse to let that experience have the final word.
My family history is an ethnic mix of Palestinian, Russian, Israeli, and Pakistani heritage. This kind of family couldn’t have happened anywhere else in the world. I am who I am because of my ancestor’s ability to immigrate to the United States. The immigrant experience is what makes me feel distinctively American, despite those who try to tell me otherwise.
Sometimes amid the din of hurtful rhetoric sprinkled with words like “illegal” and harsh tones that make “immigrant” sound like a curse word, we forget that we had a distant aunt from Ireland who in the 1850’s was once hated for being Catholic in America. We don’t realize that our Japanese neighbor was once held in a WW II detention camp, and entirely forget that our Native American ancestors were persecuted and made into immigrants on their own land. Too many of us simply aren’t connected to our immigrant past.
I don’t ever want to hide my identity, nor do I want any immigrant to have to hide theirs. I am a proud Muslim American that loves the diversity and opportunity of this country. A friend, Naglaa, pursues a PHD from GWU and comes from an Egyptian village hailing from an illiterate mother and father. Their incredible bravery and trust in America is inspiring and the great smile that graces her face despite her hardships is humbling. The Prophet Muhammad [peace be upon him] said, “Even a smile is charity.” My friend has inspired me to smile and keep an open heart so that I may learn from other’s stories, and remember that what connects us most is simply being human.
It is time that Americans reclaim the word “immigrant”, rejoicing in it as the common identity of most all Americans. In response to the current national debate around immigration, I am working with the Interfaith Youth Core’s “Stranger to Neighbor” project to start an interfaith project documenting and sharing immigrant stories through video, poetry, art and pictures. It is my hope that through the sharing of stories we will bring an end to the dehumanizing language around immigration, and reconnect us all to the immigrant experience.