Feeling Whole: From Jordan to Palestine to San Francisco

Feeling Whole: From Jordan to Palestine to San Francisco

by Jose Castillo, May 2017

Being in exile in a foreign country tends to affect immigrants’ identities giving them international perspectives because it brings back memorable and hard memories as they imagine their futures. When people are in exile, meaning separated from their countries, leaving home involuntary, or by force of circumstances, it affects people’s perspectives. Many immigrants who are in exile in the United States also experience memories of their homelands, international perspectives, and legal or human rights abuses, since they are affected due to the political situations of poor countries. Abdul, a nineteen-year-old, my research partner from Jordan, describes how he was affected when he came to the United States by saying, “When I came to the Unites States, it changed my….my action, values slightly…your life changes. When I was home, and when I was just at home, life changes.” It is common to see an immigrant being affected while he experiences some personal changes when arriving in the United States. It is clear that personal values can also change, but also comparing his new life with his life in his home country, his life has changed because of a political conflict. In his country he was struggling with his family to defend his land from military invaders. Abdul claims that he was armed to be brave as an adult, ready to defend his family and land. This is a real story of a young man who immigrated to the United States in order to seek a better education, and the immediate challenge he faces when dealing with his immigrant identity, as well as legal and human rights violations while he is in exile. The human rights abuses he faced in Palestine, which lead to his exile, forced Abdul to immigrate, and affected his personal identity. This made him feel like he had two conflicting identities here in the United States. This transition proves that Abdul’s memory has gone through certain changes while in exile and left him fragmented; However, Abdul’s memory has been through a healing process that has allowed him to feel whole.

Abdul’s human rights were violated when he was unlawfully arrested, which left him traumatized while living in his native country. Today, many immigrants relate how oppressive their governments were while they were living in their home countries. Oppressive governments are those that have authoritarian law and oppressive system, which is the main reason people seek political asylum as refugees in distant nations. From my interviewee’s perspective, he relates how he was affected while living in Palestine when he says in a worried tone:

“Ah…I want to talk about as I mentioned before I am Jordanian, but also my background is Palestinian, and when I was back there…ah…the military was taking my land…they were offending me by shooting in the air. They also entered our own house and arrested me and my family, and they also occupied my house and stayed there for three days. Can you imagine the military staying in the house for three days like you cannot do anything right?…and it…it is just really super abusive and affects emotionally…its my land, and I was just fighting back for my land…”

Frankly, this statement explains a difficult situation, because it narrates an oppressive situation that affects people’s lives while they are detained inside of their own homes by a suppressive military that does not want people to protest for their human rights.

In addition, Abdul’s human rights were violated when the military invaded his homeland. When foreign militaries invade an outside territory, they take land and scare people. In many countries where there are conflicting military conflicts, military invader governments do not care about territory, whether it is independent, or has a limitation of sovereignty.  Likewise, Peter Orner, a professor and writer at San Francisco State University’s Creative Writing Program, worked with Voice of Witness to collect and edit the personal undocumented stories of immigrants in the United States. He shares the story of Diana. Through her story, Diana exposes violations to her human rights such as an arrest and harassment by ICE agents when they were asking persistent questions to her, and she was in arbitrary detention for not having right the documents. In her words, Diana explains the illegal actions against her:

“The agents put the fingerprints into a machine and asked me where I was from. I felt calm, more and less, I said, ‘No, I need my lawyer, I have a right to a lawyer. I have the right to make a phone call.’ They told me I’d get a lawyer and my phone call later and   asked me again where I was from. But I refuse to tell them. ‘Cooperate with us,’ they said. ‘Why are you making this so hard?’ But I insisted on the rights I knew I had’.”

Obviously, there was not a reason to answer these types of questions, since Diana knew that she did not have the appropriate documents.  If she had the right documents given by the U.S. Immigration Department while she was in exile, she would gladly have given her recognition before the arresting agent. Otherwise, human rights violations against immigrants and my interviewee make no sense. When we see The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 2 of this declaration states, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedom set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind of race, (…) Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of territory” (UDHR).  This article clearly shows the right of freedom people deserve without the political oppression of an outsider military government, who wants to oppress an independent community. It is true that it is something unusual, because it makes people leave and go into exile instead of risking their lives in a dangerously militarized land. This transition proves that certain aspects while in exile left Abdul fragmented; therefore, Abdul’s memory has been though a healing process that has allowed him to feel whole.

Learning English has been difficult for Abdul because he has become an adult and has worked through this by taking some English classes while he is in exile in the United States.  Learning the English language is a way to communicate important issues because it is the way people or society give and exchange information and ideas with each other.  Immigrants in exile notice the difficulty of learning the English language because in order to learn the language, they need to have a little backup, or a little information in order to know more about it. Abdul says in his own words, “Ah…It was very hard the English language…the first language…when I was young was very good, I had a little back up of the English language.”  This means that some immigrants experience difficulty when they do not know the language, but also not all have difficulty if they have a little knowledge of the English language. The effects can be reduced if they have a little important information that might help them when learning at a later time, or when they go into exile. According to Becky H Huang, a Harvard professor, and Ah Jun, a university linguist, in “The Effect Of Age On The Acquisition Of Second Language Prosody,” in which they emphasize how an exploratory analysis of the age of arrival effects the production of a second language and affects Mandarin immigrants:

“Owing to its theoretical implications for the mechanism of second language (L2) acquisition and practical implications for L2 education, the age-related decline in ultimate second language (L2) attainment is one of the most controversial topics in the L2 acquisition field. Among the various L2 linguistic domains, phonological production is arguably the least controversial candidate for an age of learning effect.  In fact, Scovel (1988) argued that the age effect exists only for phonology because the ability to master the sound patterns of an L2 is susceptible to neurological development.” (388)

For the same reason, this statement proves the variables in which my interviewee’s perspective is affected by his learning of the English language while he is in exile. Also, many immigrants are affected in other areas like: writing, speaking, and reading, when they are told to interact in these areas just like native students do, who are less affected. For this reason, learning English has been a difficult process for Abdul because he has become an adult, and has worked through this by taking some English classes while he is in exile.

Experiencing a different type of lifestyle, or assimilation, is another challenge for my interviewee’s perspective and affects him because it takes time for him to assimilate while he is in exile in the United States. While Abdul continues his life in America, he experiences a new culture inhabited by diverse people from other cultures, which America requires him to integrate with. The difference with his culture and his homeland is that his school and values are drastically connected to his culture. Abdul, in his own words, says, “When I came here into the United States, I feel like I was at home” (4). This statement means that despite coming to America, Abdul as an immigrant still feels attached to his culture and homeland rather than feeling as an American, or telling anyone he feels as an American resident. Also, he might feel half assimilated to the American culture just like when he was in his country, or not at all. In “The Lebanese Diaspora: The Arab Immigrant Experience in Montreal, New York, and Paris,“ by Abdelhady and Dallas, they say, “I could not explain this dilemma to the receptionist. I could not tell her that I had never felt American, despite the various indictors of my successful assimilation” (1). Obviously, it is hard for an immigrant to feel that he or she has become part of the American culture, because his or her roots are still attached to their culture. Of course, it will take time for them to assimilate into the new lifestyle of the American culture when they are submitted into the assimilation process like Abdul.

Abdul has become culturally integrated by participating in a new society while he lives in exile.  When people are integrated into a new culture like Abdul, they have to identify themselves with the new people, which is one of the new challenging situations that has affected Abdul’s identity while he lives in exile in the United States.  Exile means to be separated from one’s country or home involuntarily or by force of circumstances, which affects people’s perspective while they live differently in other countries. For instance, Abdul, my interviewee from Daly City, has to experience some changes as a result of exile, which affects his entire identity.  When I asked him the question “How does exile affected your identity?”, he replied with a kind of worried tone.  On Tuesday, March 14, 2017, at 5: 23, he responded regarding the effects on his identity, and states as follows:

“Ah…so…basically…ah…when the first time I came here, I just certainly… When I came to the United States, it changed my action, values slightly…ah…I am just feeling the life out…your life changes. When I was home, and when I was just at home life changes.  Identity is one of the challenges that affects immigrants because it changes the way they act, their values, and they feel that their life also tends to change to a certain degree.”

Practically speaking, it is obvious to see these changes that people have to go through when they integrate and move to another region. They go through changes in values and are often surprised by the new amazing changes they go through, because it is not easy to make changes immediately. Once immigrants arrive and integrate in the new region, the process of change takes place in their identity. This means that immigrants or groups of people who immigrate to another nation due to any oppressive circumstances, have to face the causes, effects, and circumstances, which shape their new identities while they are in exile. For example, in modern times, many Jewish people are separated from their ethnic community, and have suffered a horrible persecution, which also affects their identity while they are in exile for a long time. In the section “Jews,” in Funk &Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia, it says, “Modern Jews are members of a separated ethnic community or fellowship rather than of a race, a community that, in the face of incessant and terrible persecution, has maintained its identity for almost 19 centuries, from the final dissolution of the Roman province of Juda in AD 135 to the establishment of the modern state of Israel in 1948” (Funk &Wagnalls). As has been noted, people from different backgrounds and religious cultures also face some challenges of oppression, and no one disputes the fact that it affects their identities while they are in exile just as it is with my interviewee. At the same time, Abdul’s integration into the new culture has made him participate in the society and feel whole.

Another challenge that Abdul has faced is how he deals with his reminiscences about his past while he lives in exile in the United States. Many immigrants tend to have memories of what their past lives at home was like, or their schools before they went into exile. Being at home means being in one’s native country, thinking of what kind or school or university people would like to go to study before exile takes place. For example, Abdul has experienced some memories when he was in his country, and remembers where he wanted to study before his exile, which affects his identity. When I asked him the question, “How do you envision home?,” it logically made him remember his school life from his native land, and where he wanted to go to study. He replied enthusiastically by remembering his fresh memories of these thoughts during the interview. He states, “Ah…so when I began my school I was thinking like…where I wanted to go to study at university abroad or home, or so I was thinking in the United States, because when you graduate you have a good jobs you know, a source of jobs any time.” Thinking is a way to remember, to consider when there is an opportunity to choose a better place to go to study, since memories affect immigrants who are in exile. The use of memory has fostered a healing process and helped Abdul to feel whole.

In the same way, Abdul as an immigrant is affected because he uses his imagination to interpret his memories about his family while he is in exile in a distant homeland. Many immigrants tend to have imaginations about critical moments with their families when they were in their homelands. For instance, Abdul used to have imaginations about difficult moments with his family in Palestine when he was invaded at home by the military. In his own words, “…They were offending me by shooting in the air, and they also entered our house and arrested me and my family.” Immigrants like Abdul almost always tend to have imaginations about some hard moments together with his family in Palestine, a place where he grew up to adulthood. In “Child of Two Words,” the author, Andrew Lam, has on imaginative interpretation of his memories of his mother’s words during his childhood back in his native homeland, Vietnam. He recalls her saying, “’Your umbilical cord is also buried in an earthen jar in our garden,’ she said. The incident and the knowledge of my own earthly ties made a strong impression on me; our ways were sacred and very old” (1). It is obvious to think that a part of oneself is buried in a place where we lived before, and is not forgotten, because there is always a strong imagination of what happened in the past, but also there is the effect of his memories while he is in exile in the United States.

Being in exile is not an easy challenge because it affects people’s identities, since most immigrants who are in exile in the United States experience hardships. These challenges include: effects on their identities, human rights violations, and effects on learning the English language, since they are affected by their personality’s perspectives while they are in exile. Some may say that immigrants are affected when they go into exile, and face issues like identity fragmentation, education, and challenges of human right abuses, since they do not expect them while living abroad. The United Declaration of Human Rights declares that people should be protected anywhere living in their homeland or abroad, or regardless of identity. Regardless of the UDHR, there will people who don’t agree that immigrants should be protected when they travel abroad. What was described is a real story of a young man who immigrated to the United States in order to seek a better education, and who has faced challenges when dealing with his immigrant identity.  As we can see, there are certain aspects that have affected his personal identity while he was in exile, and caused him a challenge issues in the United States. Immigrants like IAbdul have to pass through a process of challenging effects in order to begin healing as a whole human being.

Works Cited

Abdelhady, Dalia, The Lebanese Diaspora: The Arab Immigrant Experience in Montreal, New York, and Paris, NY: NYU Press. 2011. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 1 May. 2017.

Green, Penny, and Amelia Smith. “Evicting Palestine” State Crime Journal.  5.1. (2016). 81.Vocational Studies.  Complete. Web. 26 Mar. 2017.

Hasler, Beatrice. S, et. al.  “Virtual Peacemakers: Mimicry Increases Empathy In SimulatedContact With Virtual Outgroup Members.” Cyber Psychology, Behavior, And Social Networking 17.12 (2014): 766-771. MEDLINE.   Web. 1 May. 2017.

Huang, Becky H., and Sun-Ah Jun. “The Effect Of Age On The Acquisition Of SecondLanguage Prosody.” Language & Speech 54.3 (2011): 387-414. Academic Search Complete. Fri.5 May. 2017

Lam, Andrew.  “Child of Two Worlds.” “Perfume Dreams.” Jun. 1998.

Orner, Peter. Editor. Underground America: Narratives of Undocumented Lives.  McSWeeney’sBooks.   2008.

“Jews.”Funk&Wagnalls New World Encyclopedia(2006). 1p. 1. Funk &Wagnalls New WorldEncyclopediaAcademic Search Complete. Web. 1May. 2017.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  60th Anniversary Special Edition, 1948-2008. [New York]. United Nations Publications, 2007. eBook Academic CollectionEBSCOhost)   Web. 1 May. 2017.

Sample Oral History Transcripts

Jose Castillo: Hello, today we are makig an interview. Today is Tuesday. Its 5:23 PM in the afternoom, March 14 of the year 2017. We are makig an interview with Hashem’s friend, and his name is Adbul. He replied:

Jose Castillo: What is your name?

Abdul: Abdul.

Jose Castillo: Ok, nice to meet you Abdul. Ah..How do you feel today?

Abdul: I’m feel very good.

Jose Castillo: Oh that’s fantiastic that’s great.

Jose Castillo: What is your age?   He replied, I am nineteen years old.

Jose Castillo: That’s fantastic. That’s fantastic.

Jose Castillo: Where are you from?

Abdul Ihsun: I am from Jordan.

Jose Castillo: That’s fantastic, That country is so beutiful. That’s wonderful.

Jose Castillo: Lets see and let me asking you some few question during the interview. How does it feel to be in the middle of a war?

Abdul: Ah does it feel unsafe…I mean…like your life is under threat under any time, and you doesn’t feel any safe right?..

Jose Castillo: Ok..and the…

Abdul: Do you want to be find again…like…?

Jose Castillo: Oh right!      Yeah, I know that people have that kind of feeling about to be in the middle of a war.

Jose Castillo: Ok…ah..the next question is…What make you to come to the United States?

Abdul: I came for the main reason to study for a bachellor degree, and civil engineering study, I am curretly enrolled at City College , and I am taking basic to tranfer to San Francisco University State, and also working a part time job for a secure restaurant.

Jose Castillo: Whoa, I can see you can management your time to work.

Jose Castillo: The next question is: How does exile have affected your identity?

Abdul: Ah…so…basically..aahh…when the first time I came here, I just certainly    When I came to the United States, It change my..my action, values slily…ah…I am just feeling the life out..your life changes. When I was home, and when I was just at home life changes.

Jose Castillo: Ok..that’s fantastic. Because at the same time for surely you can fell the emotional way when you were back home you can  feel the safety here in the United States, and is a great opportunity where you can developed a more a…, a more emotional time for your can develop your personality, your idetity, and the same way you can see how the cultura here in the United States is about you know…you can learn or even assimilate your own cultura where there is another opportunity where you can see both sides of the point of views in the cultures in the country, because we live in a country where there are  so many diverse cultures comming from around the world. But at the same time, I see that your immagination of your identity has been affected…your security here away from a situation of a war where there is situation that put life in danger, but here you have an apportunity where you can have a life to study of your wonderful profession, and to apply with your own identity, and  I think that that is very interesting.

Jose Castillo: Ok…ah..as we continue our interested interview, and my nex question is: How does this interview envision home?

Abdul: Ahm…can you expaling more?…

Jose Castillo: Lets see in a specific story. What was your specific story if you were in your country at home, and then comming here to the United States? Can you explain?

Abdul: Ah…so when I began my high school I was thinking like …where I wanted to go to study at university abroad or in home, or so I was thinking in the Unites States, because when you gradurate you have a good jobs you kow, a source of jobs any time, ah…to emigrate to the United States, and to have besically…ah…I apply for a lotery and immigrate to the United States..ah..and I just won the visa lotery from the United States. I came here and went to City College and to tranfer to San Francisco State as I mention before to complete my bachellor degree. That’s it.

Jose Castillo: Whao…that’s amazing you envision your story at home, and the way you won the visa lotery. You’re so lucky you won the lotery, since there are many students who envision the same opportunity, but you were selected to come to the United States with the dream to come true. Congratulations to you. As we continue our interesting interview…how does this brochure of perspective of your international has affected you regarding of law of human rights?

Abdul: Ah…I want to talk about as I mention before I am Jordanian, but also my background is Palestinian, and when I was back there…ah…the military was taking my land…they were offending me by shooting in the air, they also entered our house and arrested me and my family, and they also occupaid my house and stayed there for three days.  Can you immagine the military staying in the household for three days like you cannot do anything right?….and it…it is just really supper abusive and affects emotional…its my land, and I just fighting back for my land..

Jose Castillo: Ok…yeah..I can see. You were passing through with your friend and family, and the military violating your rights , and your friends and  your family seeing the military standing there so long…is imposible, because is a condition where people would feel frustrated, and feeling bad because is a severe violation of a human situation. People has the right to protest that even other people don’t like it, and I understand, I know a situation your went through yur family.

Adbul: Ahm…so bacically as I said before myself we were palestinian …ahm..as against human rights…against what the military do against the human rights…ahm..we were throwing rocks at them… and they shoot at us and and a cousing got shot …ahm..we actually went to the hospital…ahm…I mean… there in Palestine you can fight from freedom, which we can fight these country, which is the United States because of the free speech to protest..protest..ahm..you feel whatever you want is right to be yourself, but there  ….    you can not express by yourserlf…ahm..the way you want… because people there are abusing you, because they want to take your land and more and more land and that we wold not except.

Jose Castillo: I see…your frustration is kind of….the opression forcé….I see the moments of desperation, the moments you experience…your friend getting shot…..I see the opposing forcé oppresing you, opressing your family, oppressing your people…they don’t have civil rights to be protected, I see the moments of exesperation because is a time of oppression…whao I can believe how hurful your freind was shot…it was a moment I can see your friend being bloody in a frustrating moments and taken to the hospital and seeking help …

Adbul says in the middle of my talking: they want to take the whole land….

Jose Castillo: Whoa, I can see is a very difficutl situation…ah..at that point I can see…ok..ah… the next question I would like to make …is how hard was for you when comming to the United States without speaking the English language?

Adbul : Ah..it was very hard the English language the first language…when I was Young was very good, I had a litlle back up of the English language. I came to the English schoo before I came here…ah…I learned a lot of skills, listening, writing, lots of skills that were able to speak to people in the community…you know…basically they do not have language can not speak with people because…ah..most people in the United States speak English . As I said before, the English school I was enrolled, I learned a lot of staff right there…ahm….I was able to speak….to speak

Jose Castillo: Oh…I see. That’s interesting to see you already spoke the English language…you know.        , which also is an opportunity…you here in the United States…you know…and find a career and education. That’s interesting, you are part              As far I can see, there is an area you know, a hardest part you strugle..you know…  Adbul say: (to communicate….)   one you communicate, you have the facility to communicate your though..you know…     Adbul : (Caugh…)       where you can find a nice career you know. I see…is something you know, is a hardest countering English language when comming to the United States.  That’s fabulous.

Jose Castillo: Let me see with the last question: how does this interview make you to feel after telling this story in this interview?

Adbul : I feel happy because I told you a really story…the real…ah…the real aspect of my…because when I was…ah…(he looked a Little nervous..)  when I was standing in front of you…ah…I just released the pain by bringing here…ah…also was fun to meet with you…you know…you know…ah… talked about me…ah…yeap.

Jose Castillo: Whao..that’s interesting, you feel a Little…you have come out with a nice talk, you have come out of a liberation..you know…because you were able to tell with confidence…you know…your personal history…you…   Adbul say: (be whatever you want…)  you…have at home..you know…a conflictive situation..and now you are at a place where you feel secure…

Jose Castillo: Congratulations….welcome to the United States, and thank you so much.

Adbul : You welcome.

Jose Castillo: This interview ended at 6: 05 PM in the afternoom of Tuesday, March 14 of the year 2017.

 

From A Refugee’s Perspective: Life in the U.S. and Iraq

From A Refugee’s Perspective: Life in the U.S. and Iraq
by Lujain Alobaide, June, 2014

Voice of Witness is a project that has launched several books illuminating human rights abuses. Their oral history interviews include immigrants who have encountered human rights abuses at the hands of their oppressive homeland regimes, human traffickers, employers, and law enforcement. In our English class at CCSF, we also conducted oral history interviews with immigrants who may or may not have necessarily suffered human rights abuses. In doing so, we urged them to debunk myths about immigrants and reflect on their experiences in both their homelands and their new host-country. I decided to interview a friend and fellow Iraqi. Adel was born in Baghdad in 1997, when severe economic sanctions were placed on the nation after its attempt to invade Kuwait. After six years of his unfortunate childhood, the United States of America, along with several international forces combined, declared war on Iraq and occupied the country after almost three weeks of battle and the almost complete destruction of the infrastructure of the country. Life was extremely rough on Iraqis, especially for children, who encountered all kinds of widespread corruption at every level of government and society. After seven years of insecurity due to ethnic killings between Sunis and Shittes, Adel and his family immigrated to the U.S., the country that had so negatively impacted Iraqis’ lives; however, having the blessing of being safe was more significant than worrying about who had planted the roots of the problems. Although there are some inherent disadvantages of living in the U.S. for Adel and his family, he mainly spoke about the overall advantages the U.S. offers in comparison to Iraq: the opportunity to live in an advanced and productive society, the modern educational system, and the ability to live in better and safer conditions despite the new loss of financial security.

Adel believes that his family was destined to come to the United States sooner or later. His father, Oday, wanted to move to the U.S. even before the invasion because he believed that his prospects would be brighter in the land of dreams; indeed, I learned later that he was mainly influenced by his American brother. Adel’s grandfather gave Oday the permission to travel, but on the condition that he marry first. After he got married, Adel’s grandfather was disabled and completely paralyzed. After this sad incident, Oday became the head of the family, and it was inappropriate for him to leave his disabled father behind. After a few years, his father died, his sister got married, and the door was open again to the possibility of immigrating to the U.S. in 2004. Oday successfully convinced his kids and wife to move there someday. As Adel told me, “It was planted in our minds that we will immigrate someday.” Furthermore, he participated in a lottery that could grant him a green card right away. Oday was extremely eager to travel in 2004 since he had a job waiting for him, but all his attempts had failed until he learned about the International Organization for Migration. Although it was a long and tedious process, Adel’s cousin urged them to apply, especially after one of Oday’s partners took his money and had threatened to kill him. Therefore, the family moved to Jordan and then to the U.S.

Adel started to express his ideas about some advantages he gained after moving to the U.S., such as the freedoms of speech and expression that were denied to him and his fellow Iraqis before. He discussed the simplest example that he could give and said, “In Iraq, a student could neither express his opinions nor argue or disagree with his teacher’s opinion” in middle school. He certainly thinks that the U.S. offers a certain level of freedom of speech and expression. Indeed, Iraqis’ opinions and freedom of speech were greatly suppressed and banned before and after the war of 2003. Mouwaffaq Al-rifa’I, in his brilliant article “False Hopes,” addresses the fact that with the current political instability, freedom of speech and press suffered greatly before and after Saddam’s regime. The government in Iraq was so oppressive that all oppositionists had to flee from Iraq, and the press had one duty, to praise the president and his family. If any politician or ordinary citizen criticized the government and the president in particular, he or she would be prosecuted. More recently, people may not criticize the government unless they are willing to risk their lives. Unfortunately, the issue of freedom in Iraq was so restricted even to a child-like Adel, who saw a huge distinction between the two countries.

We also discussed the pros and the cons of Iraqi society versus American society, and Adel agreed that Americans have a more individualistic life than the family-oriented lifestyle of Iraqis; nevertheless, he prefers it since it has enabled the Americans to become a more advanced and productive society. He complains the Iraqi community still has its despicable age-old tradition of caring too much about gossip and the fact that they often impose on a person’s privacy by asking personal questions. Adel claims that he and his family have abandoned those habits. Adel explained that in Iraq,“People have plenty of leisure time; they have nothing to do, while here you have to work a lot.” To a certain extent, I disagree with him. Most people in the U.S. have no time for any kind of social life in comparison to Iraqis. Adel agreed with me, yet said once again that people care more about work, probably indicating that this is what places the U.S. among the most developed countries in the world. Adel perceives life in the U.S. as a very practical, work-oriented type of lifestyle, while family and gossip is always the priority for his fellow Iraqis. He mentioned that “A typical day of an Iraqi is working from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, and then enjoying the rest of the day with their families.” Then he severely criticized his own people and called them mostly “lazy folks,” placing huge importance on secondary matters such as food, saying “People live to eat, not eat to live” while Americans are hard-working folks. For the most part, it is certainly significant for any country to be advanced to maintain its work productivity; however, that doesn’t justify the almost lack of social life among Americans. It’s clear that the fact that Adel has grown up in Iraq during war-time has negatively impacted the way he looks at his society, while he appreciates living in what he calls a “productive society.”

Although many Americans criticize their education system, Adel believes that the United States education system is much better than the education systems in both Iraq and Jordan. Adel experienced a great deal of suffering due to the educational practices that were common in Iraq after the American invasion in 2003. Adel summed up his experience by saying, “I passed my classes by bribing my teachers.” In Iraq, several teachers forced him to pay for useless private sessions in order to pass the classes. For instance, although he admitted he neither spoke, wrote, nor understood any English, he was exempted from taking the final exam, since it was merely about paying money to teachers behind closed doors. Furthermore, in other subjects such as Arabic, Math, or even Islamic Studies, he would either pay for a private session or one of his classmates would give him a copy of the test after obtaining it by bribing that particular teacher. When Adel moved to Jordan, things became even worse for him. Teachers abused their authority by beating their students, using thick pieces of wood, small aluminum pipes, or other instruments, which caused him to hate going to school. Obviously, education was one of several aspects of Iraqis’ lives that were utterly destroyed by corruption and bribery. While in Jordan, that particular school hadn’t yet purged the old barbaric practice of corporal punishment, which indeed caused Adel not only to hate the school, but also to hate his memories of Jordan. On the other hand, schools in the U.S. allow students to pick their classes after consulting with their advisers and there is no inhumane treatment of students. Hence, studying in the U.S. represents a great opportunity for Adel to expand his educational experience, and start loving school.
Like many immigrants, Adel’s first impression of the U.S. has its own unique taste of mixed emotions, and Adel felt that some medical agencies had discriminated against him since he came from Iraq, while he felt he was treated with great sympathy and respect in his two-week middle school experience for the same reason. As any new immigrant, Adel and his family, accompanied by his uncle, applied for social security numbers as their first step in the long process of obtaining green cards and then applying for citizenship. One of the requirements is a medical check-up, during which he felt he was subject to unnecessary shots because the nurses knew he was from Iraq. They felt obligated to prevent any kind of diseases from spreading because of the radiation that was left over after the shelling. He also mentioned that his uncle’s wife, who is an Irish-American nurse, was surprised and annoyed by the amount of medicine and shots they were injected with. Adel remained sick for two weeks and believed it was due to the excessive and unnecessary medicine. In contrast, one week after living in the U.S., he attended the last two-weeks of middle school in Oroville, California. Adel felt utterly welcome despite the language barrier. He said, “I spoke very few words, like five or six, such as hi, how are you? And these kind of stuff.” Students urged him to come by and sit with them at lunch time, while the kindness of his music teacher impressed him. Adel said, “Every morning I would go to see a band practicing. One day, he posted a sign saying not to enter, so I didn’t. Next day I saw him and he told me that I’m an exception to the rule, and that I can actually enter.” His teacher was extremely sympathetic and respectful because he knew what it really meant for a kid to be living in Iraq at that time. Although it was a minor type of discrimination, Adel felt insulted by the way he was treated according to that labeling of being an Iraqi, while on the contrary, Adel’s two-week experience in middle school not only made him love going to school, but also helped him successfully integrate into American life.

Adel’s family was considered a middle-class family in Iraq, given that his father was an electrical engineer, while he is currently among the working class in the U.S., so I touched on this sensitive area regarding the governmental assistance his family is receiving. Adel’s family receives both food stamps and cash aid, so I asked him about how they met their living expenses. He explained that they rented out their home in Iraq, and used that money combined with government assistance to make ends meet. I plunged in into one of the most widespread misconceptions regarding immigrants and I informed him that some Americans view those who take government assistance, such as his family, as parasites. He responded, “We have only finished three years in total and that if we will be taking it for more than five years, the myth become valid.” Adel had forgotten that his father is unable to practice his profession since his degree isn’t recognized in the U.S. Indeed, he must study for a couple years to earn the equivalent degree. In the meantime, he is actively looking for a part-time job that can accommodate his medical conditions, while Adel’s mother is currently working part-time. Indeed, after Adel got his job at McDonald’s and his mother started working at Costco, the county reduced their benefits by more than half. His personal experience is just one among thousands of people who are wrongfully accused of being parasites. Although there are some prejudices against immigrants like Adel, he is very resilient and able to deal with them and with the lower-level of financial income that his family now has.

One of the reasons why Adel has such a negative impression of his homeland is the overall corruption trend in Iraqis’ lives. According to the United States Department of Justice’s report on the overall status of Iraq in 2013, ten years after the war ended, the severe human rights abuses still persist. That said, the three most important ones are:
“politically motivated sectarian and ethnic killings, including by the resurgent terrorist network led by al-Qaida and its affiliate, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), formerly known as al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI); torture and abuses by government actors and illegal armed groups; and a lack of governmental transparency, exacerbated by widespread corruption at all levels of government and society.”

Iraq has been the best place for terrorist groups to seek shelter. This fact, in addition to the government’s unlawful actions against civilians, led to 6564 fatalities in 2013. Arbitrary arrest and long-term imprisonment without trial was widespread in the last decade. Human rights abuses and degrading treatment in prison and detention centers that usually lack clean water and electricity were very common as well. Moreover, many other international agencies that advocate and monitor human rights were banned from access to sensitive locations like prisons and detention centers. Corruption on the governmental level was so bad that it was reported that 60 percent of the country government employees were bribed, and several citizens confessed that they were compelled to pay bribes an average of four times a day. In addition, government officials were found to be guilty of stealing public funds, and the total of the first ten months of the same year was found to be 112 million dollars. Previously mentioned, conditions and others has created such a negative depiction in Adel’s mind regardless of what the roots of the original problem are.

One of the biggest advantages the U.S. has to offer became apparent as Adel spoke about one of his harrowing experiences in Iraq. A few weeks after the official occupation of Iraq, an Iraqi missile fell on his family home while they were eating lunch; in Adel’s own words, “It fell down exactly on the room that was above us. If there was nothing to block it, it would have fallen on us. If we [hadn’t] died from its heavy weight, we would probably [would have] died from its extremely high heat.” Luckily, it was a defective missile, and when it fell down, only half of it fell. Adel’s family were enjoying their lunch, when his aunt stood up and started washing dishes. The shelling didn’t really sound that severe, at least compared to three weeks of continuous shelling. His father thought that the shelling was just starting earlier than the usual, when his mother observed that the neighbors were actually pointing at their house. The neighbors told his father that there was some smoke coming from the backyard. His father went upstairs to find a cloud of smoke, and then ordered the entire family to evacuate the house. Police officers and firefighters arrived. More than ten men equipped with different kinds of rags and gloves crawled down the stairs with the missile and placed it in their truck. It was really heavy and extremely hot, and caused major cracks on their stairs. They were all terrified; however, they had some type of metal air-conditioner holder that had a cubic shape, which stopped the missile from getting into the kitchen and most likely ending their lives. Probably, the paramount advantage is the security he enjoys while living in the U.S., which was perfectly expressed in his own words: “at least [in the U.S] I could put my head on the pillow without having to worry about if some militia will raid on our house and kills us… ” For the most part, almost every war-refugee would agree that having the grace of safety is always the number one advantage the host country can provide for with.

Although living in the U.S. has its disadvantages for Adel and his family, he sees the U.S. as a place that has provided him with safe living conditions, access to a well-developed education system, and the chance to live in a productive society. Being a refugee and child in a time of war has greatly impacted the way Adel views his homeland, especially in comparison to the U.S. Iraq has been under harsh conditions since the first Gulf War of 1980. War after war, combined with economic sanctions and isolation from the international community has spurred many Iraqis like Adel to emigrate to more advanced societies that can provide them with basic human needs. Indeed, the majority of Iraqi immigrants have fled the country due to the utterly unsafe living conditions, which is a natural human merit that makes any human favor living in the safer country. Therefore, home for Iraqis is the place where safety can be found, and basic human rights are granted. Probably the best statement that describes why Adel and other Iraqi children might not admire their original country is found in Shereen T. Ismael Article, “The Cost of War: The Children of Iraq.” Ismael said, “Peace is the nurture of happy children.” Therefore, violence combined with widespread insecurity and corruption makes the United States the best provider for Adel and his family’s needs, which were lacking in his homeland country.

Work Cited

Abdullha, Adel. Personal interview. 7 March 2014.

Ismael, Shereen T. “The Cost of War: The Children of Iraq.” Journal of Comparative Family Studies 38.2 (2007): 337-357. Academic Search Premier. Web. 17 May 2014.

United States. Dept. of Justice. “Iraq 2013 Human Rights Report.” The United
State Department of Justice. Virtual Law Library, May. 2014. Web. 15 May 2014.

Rifa’i, Mouwaffaq Al. “False Hopes.” Index on Censorship 36.3 (2007): 35-43. Academic Search Premier. Web. 10 May 2014.

Interview Transcripts

I told my friend Adel previously about the project and he agreed to be interviewed by me.

Lujain: Adel tell me about your life in Iraq.

Adel: Should I speak in English?

Lujain: You don’t have to.

Since I knew that he would express himself much better in Arabic than English. Arabic was the language spoken between us throughout the interview. In addition, please not that these are not the entire transcripts; this is only some part of the interview.

Adel: on the first day of the war, we were prepared for the war by setting a room that was next to the stairs, next to a bathroom, so that the entire family could sleep there at the outset of the war of 2003. I and my sister brought our stuff, and toys and placed them in that room, and it was determined that this room would be the safest one. In other words, it would be the last room to be destroyed if a missile would hit our house.

Lujain: Are you saying that only you and Sarah (his sister) would sleep in that particular room since it is safer to remain there?

Adel: Well, actually all of the family stayed there whenever the shelling was too severe. Also, this room has few windows, so it was safer to remain there for the first month of the war. May uncle and his family (two daughters, two sons, and his wife) came and stayed with us in our home as well. My uncle use to live in your Neighborhood (Lujain’s Neighborhood). Indeed, my uncle had died (sighs). We were total of 13 person living in our house.

Lujain: Wow, that’s a lot. How many rooms were there in your home?

Adel: Man what are you talking about, we were all 13 individual in my small room whenever the shelling was severe. I think that was merely true for the first week, and then we started to play some games.

Lujain: Okay.

Adel: Because we thought if we were going to die then we will. There was no much to do about it. We were constantly hearing airplanes noises.

Lujain: Tell me about when the missile fell down at your house; was your uncle’s family still living with you?

Adel: Haaaaaaaaa هااااااا, no they weren’t with us, they returned back to their neighborhood after a while. (The Arabic word is a special Iraqi expression that refers to that fact that the person now got the idea of what the other person is asking or talking about).

Lujain: Uhmm, then tell me when did that happened? The Official war was no more than three weeks.

Adel: I know

Lujain: Then, when did the missile fell down?

Adel: in the middle of the war.

Lujain; Uhmm, (facial expression suggesting that I still don’t get it).

Adel: It was after the official occupation of Baghdad, but it was an Iraqi-missile.

Lujain: Okay

Adel: But there was still sort of minor resistance against the American Army. There was still some parts that were under the Iraqi-control.

Lujain: uhmm, okay. (Laughs), Oh Lord, why did they merely targeted it your house?!

Adel: exactly man, I guess it was a random mistake.

Lujain: An Iraq missile.

Adel: it was a spoiled missile. Only half of the missile fell down.

Lujain: Okay. Who were the agencies, or people that came to assist you?

Adel: Police and firefighters.

Lujain: but…( interrupted )

Adel: wait, let me say it in a chronological order. (Laughs). We were eating our lunch when the missile felt down. It fell down exactly on the room that was above us. If there was nothing to block it, it would have fell on us. If we weren’t to die from its heavy weight, we would probably die from its extremely high heat. My aunt were washing dishes, the whole family were in the kitchen eating our lunch. It was afternoon.

Lujain: who was there again beside you?

Adel: my family, aunt, and my grandmother.

Adel: the voice wasn’t that huge in comparison to what we heard during the war. It was utterly soft voice.

Lujain: That is so bizarre. I remember that even when missiles were distanced, their voices was still intimidating. May be it is because it was spoiled.
Adel: I don’t know. My father took me and my sister to the secure room, and sat us in his lap, and placed his arms around us.

Lujain: As a child: What were your feelings? Afraid, terrified, etc.

Adel: yep, of course I was terrified.

Lujain: Was your body shaking? Did you got sick because o you fear? (I was requesting more details).

Adel: oh okay, no, we were all afraid, but no to the point that I got sick. A child is hearing a horribly loud voices, what do you expect him to feel? (Adel was fumed). We used to close the doors and the windows to minimize these voices. The room would isolated the voice.

Lujain: Okay. Man, I remember our house was shacking as if an earthquake had occurred.

Adel: We would always sit in the room that has the fewer windows. My dad observed, “Oh the shelling have started so early today”, when it felt down. All of the sudden, my mom mentioned that our neighbors are looking at our houses, and they were pointing.

Lujain: (Laughs).[ Laughs that was intended to show the irony of what life can bring into people’s lives].

Adel: My dad went out, and the neighbors’ said there was a smoke evolving from the back yard of our house. We spilt the house before the war into two houses: once was sold, and the other one is where we lived.

Lujain: Okay

Adel: sighs, he went upstairs, and the merely view was pure smoke. He said, “everyone hurry up out.” We went out to the house that was exactly in front of our house. Indeed, after the war, a bickering had occurred between us and them.

Lujain: OKAY

Adel: Anyway: one of them kept repeating, did it explode yet or not? Laughing.

Lujain: what….??? Surprised from the that person reaction.

Adel: I swear we were all afraid, while this lady was wondering in such a rude way.

Lujain: Oh my God.

Adel: my father was the only one who stayed with the police and the firefighters to help getting the thing out. One of them opened the door and ordered everyone else to go down stairs.

Lujain: ohh (in a surprising tone), there was still some sort of services provided during that time.

Adel: Yep it was a missile. It would have destroyed the entire neighborhood, not only our house. The expert went out of the room and said, “It’s spoiled, it won’t explode.” But there was a liquid, if it started to pour down, then there would still a possibility of explosion.

Lujain: uhmmm

Adel: Look, it was already so hot, so it will operate fire and explode. The missile was exceptionally hot. (He emphasized that three times). The experts brought all kind of rags and gloves, and the missile was crawled down by more than ten man. It almost broke our stairs. You can certainly see the cracks that was left behind by the missile.

Lujain: Do you know how many tons was it?

Adel: No.

Lujain: wow, ten men carried it.

Adel: No, it was only by crawling it down. You might want to ask my day about the exact weigh and number of people who helped crawling it down Again, I assure you that it was no less than 10 man. All the edges were cracked. They delivered it to the truck, and carried it up in somehow and placed it in.

L.A: Now, tell me about the reasons why did your family decide to leave Iraq and when was that decision of going to the U.S. made?

A.A: my father decide to go to the U.S before he even married my mother.

L.A: why?

A.A: My dad wanted to get out of Iraq uhmm uhmm, honestly, he went to get out of the country to build his future more.

L.A: So, in his point of view, Iraq was inadequate place to live at.

A.A: it’s not about being inadequate, he want to go out because my uncle did so before him. My grandfather, may God place his mercy upon him, told him that he should first get married so his family will be content about his situation, and then he could travel afterward.

L.A: okay.

A.A: My dad told grandpa okay, he married my mom, and they were cousins anyway. During the time my father got married, my grandfather was incapacitated. He was totally paralyzed. He couldn’t even talk, so my father was the only one who took care of him during that time. My dad was the head of the house, so it was utterly wrong for him to travel.

L.A: okay

A.A: my grandfather died, and my grandmother and my aunty lived with us. When my aunt got married he thought about it again. My dad thought that he will go first and then he will send us some kind of invitation later. He didn’t thought about us coming.

L.A: When was that?

A.A: I think it was in 2004, when my uncle who resides in the U.S. found a job for him, and my dad was about to sign the contract.

L.A: why? Wasn’t there any jobs in Iraq?

A.A, yes there was some, but he wanted to become a citizen and then invite us easily.

L.A: why do you think obtaining American citizenship is important?

A.A: Because people would respect you if you have it. Just go to anywhere worldwide and they wouldn’t respect your Iraqi citizenship. If you travel with U.S. passport, people will put you above their heads [They would highly respect you].

L.A: don’t you think the reason folks around the world don’t respect us is the consequences evolved after the war?

A.A: of course, after the falling of the regime. But let me tell you, when I first started to have some sort of realization, it was in planted in our minds that we will go out someday. It was like a dream that my father convinced us of. He would always sent messages to an organization.

L.A: do you mean the IOM? Or the UN?

A.A: No, no no, I forgot it man. You just get it by luck.

L.A: Oh, I Think you’re talking about lottery.

A.A: There were many people who won it, but after a while our case was declined.

L.A: uhmmm.

A.A: My cousin Ali, he called and told us about it, which he was the first one who applied. He urged us to apply, and there were many steps in the process. After a while, we had an interview. Don’t ask me about the date though.

L.A: Was it in Iraq?

A.A.: No the interview was conducted in Jordan. So they sent us visas to go there, because it was hard for an Iraqi to get a visa to Jordan. We traveled there by car. It was extremely nice. We noticed that people had many papers. Our driver in surprise wondered where our papers are.

L.A: Do you visas?

A.A: Yeah I guess. We told the driver to calm down, we will pay you man, no worries. We entered easily unlike other folks. We did the interview and we were told to wait for the second interview, which takes about more than five months to be contacted again.

L.A: so you didn’t face any hardships. Everything was well prepared for you.

A.A: It was really nice, as if you were entering heaven.

L.A: do you mean the first time you saw Jordan was to you as though you entered paradise?

A.A: OF Course, nodding his head. From destroyed building to Malls and stuff.

L.A: can you explain more?

A.A: even when we entered anapartment it was really wow. Indeed, it was normal apartment. The apartment below us was where my cousin Ali lived.

L.A: okay.

A.A: In surprising turn, we had to wait for a long time after the first interview, and we were supposed to move to Jordan; however, we didn’t know and we wasn’t prepared. They didn’t tell us that we will be living in Jordan from now and on. Frankly, it was really tough on us.

L.A: you were shocked.

A.A. extremely shocked, because we can’t return again, the visas are provide only once. We started to think about how we are going to go back again but we went to Iraq again anyway. Anyway, the first day we weren’t tired when we first arrived, the whole route was pretty nice, mountains and totally new nature.

L.A: okay

A.A: okay, we returned back, and prepared ourselves to travel back to Jordan. I passed my classes by bribing my teachers (paying for useless private sessions). Indeed, the teacher came to me and told me you have to take a private lecture in order for me to pass the class, so did I and I passed. Again, it was really hard to prepare for our departure.

L.A: Are you saying because after the war, there was a lot of corruption in all aspects of life including education?

A.A: Yes, so corrupted, so corrupted, so corrupted (he repeated).

L.A: Did you learning anything in school, or was it just because you sort of have to go?

A.A: Well, although I didn’t understand anything in English, I was exempted from English ( a special Iraqi system, in which if you are really good at certain subject and you have a grade of an A, then you are exempted from taking the final exam). The exact reason behind getting the exemption is that I went with a group of students and paid a private teaching session. We would put the money inside the Notebook and gave it to her. Also, the lady who was my personal driver is my Islamic studies teacher, so I secured a good grade as well.

L.A: (Laughing)…

A.A: For Arabic, my friend would pay the teacher, get the exams and gave me some copies; however, my geography teacher demanded an extremely high rate for a private session. I just couldn’t afford it.

L.A: how much did she wanted?

A.A: yeah, indeed I paid about 200 dollars for my English teacher, but for geography she demanded it at least one session per month. So as a consequence, I didn’t pass the geography, but luckily I passed the class as whole just because I had a good average.

L.A: So tell me about when you first arrived to the U.S.

A.A: My uncle was waiting for us, it was warm-moments to reunite with my uncle, whom I never saw before. We went to their home and slept since we were extraordinary tired after a long trip. On the very next day, we woke up, and found ourselves in a forest.

L.A: wasn’t clear for you where are you at from the first day you arrived?

A.A: no it wasn’t clear. Even the second day we we’re still exhausted, but the third day we were so shocked. Living in a forest, no neighbors, and you can’t even walk, the nearest city is thirty minute a way. I mean we used to live in the center of the city of Baghdad. (it was a big transition).

L.A: Okay.

A.A: then we moved to Jordan, but it was always crowded with people. Now, we were living in exile.

L.A: weren’t there any stores or any kind of malls close to your uncle home?

A.A: No, you have to drive thirty minutes. There may be two neighbor, one of them has a shortage of electricity and used his generator to conduct electricity.

L.A: dude, that sounds like you were still in Iraq.

A.A: We went and applied for social security number. Also, I was ill during that time. When we went to the hospital for a medical check-up, I personally took at least five shots on each arm. It was really strong, that’s probably why I got sick. My uncle’s wife is actually a nurse; and was surprised and annoyed for the amount of shots we had to take. She herself wondered why would the give us all of that. It seemed like when they knew we were from Iraq, they had to do that because they were afraid that radiations or whatever kind of diseases we might have carried with us from there.

L.A: did you feel undignified because of the way they treated you in the hospital? Do you think the hospital stuff dislike the place you came from?

A.A: Yes, they did.

L.A: how was your respond to the new society?

A.A: I was so afraid.

L.A: from what?

A.A: everything. After one week, I begun to attend school right away.

L.A: How was your interactions in the school with students in particular?

A.A: Their reaction toward me was a new student who didn’t spoke any English. Frankly, my English was so bad back then. I barely spoke couple words. Most of the time, I didn’t understand a word from what they’re telling me. I speak few words, like five or six, such as Hi, how are you and these kind of stuff. But I tell you in my uncle house..

L.A: how many years have you studying English?

A.A: In Iraq one year, but all the years was private sessions.

L.A: uhmmm.

A.A: In Jordan also was a year, but it was British. It was all different. I started to understand them a bit, but I couldn’t do any homework without my uncle’s wife.

L.A: so she tutored you.

A.A: yes, but the problem was that I even couldn’t understand her either (Irish American who speaks English only). Man, when she used to say hi to me, I would only wave to her by my hand. Similarly with my mom, they kept saying hi to each other. We didn’t speak it. When I first saw my dad speaking, I was like wow; where did he learn it?! The first day in school, they called an Iraqi girl who was younger than I to assist me. But honestly she only showed me where my class is. I didn’t understand anything, they all left me by myself. Oh, Lord, What am I going to do? I was scared to death. In addition, my music teacher was extraordinarily nice to me, he welcomed me. Every morning I would go to see a band practicing. One day he posted a sign saying not to enter, so I didn’t. Next day I saw him and he told me that I’m an exception to the rule, and that I can actually enter. He knew that I like these stuff, and I’m not a troublemaker.

L.A: so he distinguished you from everyone else. Do you think he was sympathetic since you are Iraqi.

A.A: Yes I do think he was sympathetic because I’m Iraqi.

A.L: what did you feel about all that?

A.A: I respected him because…… (quite)

L.A: do you think you are lucky because your uncle was here given that he knows the country very well? (He came to the U.S. in about more than 40 years ago). You know some people come without having proper documentation and has no one to offer help for them.

A.A: Yeah it was really tough on us. Without him, we are destroyed……
After that, we wanted to move out, because we wanted to find a place where jobs are available, so my parents could work. We first thought about moving to Sacramento, but we finally came to Daly City where your uncle’s live. There was so Arabs who live there. We aren’t alone. It was nice.

L.A: so you told me you came nearby San Francisco to find a job right.

A.A: YES

L.A: okay, from what do you pay living expenses during you first three years?

A.A: we rented our home in Iraq. Also, some assistances the government provide us with. Currently, my mother is working, and my father is still looking for a job.

L.A: what do you mean by assistances? Is it cash aid and food stamps?

A.A: yes.

L.A: many Americans believe that those who take these services are parasites. What do you think about that?

A.A: it’s not a shame.

L.A: I said parasites. (Those two words parasites and shame has a similar pronunciation in Arabic).

A.A: if they take it over than five years, then they are.

L.A: okay:

A.A: But we are still new. We just came here. They were born here … (Interrupted by me).

L.A: are you saying you really need those aids?

A.A: definitely. Because…. Uhmmm (laugh) ……. Because we are starting from the zero. It’s as if you were just born, so wouldn’t you need aids? And you can’t even work. It’s hard to find a job easily.

 

 

 

Envisioning Home in the Land of the Invader

Envisioning Home in the Land of the Invader
by C.K. Ramsey, May 2014

Inspired by Voice of Witness–a San Francisco non-profit dedicated to the use of oral history to elucidate the personal accounts of human rights abuses suffered by undocumented immigrants living and working on the fringes of American society–this argumentative essay project endeavors to give voice to immigrants and their unique American experiences. Although our class project is inspired by Voice of Witness, we have chosen to expand our pool of witnesses to include not just those who have endured human rights abuses, but anyone with a contemporary immigration narrative they wish to share. Lujain Alobaide is a fellow classmate from Iraq, who has graciously agreed to share his story with me. Lujain is an intelligent young man with progressive views on a range of topics, most of which we touched on in our extensive interview. We discussed everything from his image of home and family in Iraq, his immigration experience, impression of America and its citizens, to politics and homosexuality, as well as religion and race.

Lujain’s romanticized image of life in Iraq is most likely rooted in the fact that he was a very young child when he lived there, unaware of the privileges his family may have enjoyed considering that they, and the country’s former leader–Saddam Hussein–are Sunnis and occupied the nexuses of power in the nation. I doubt that Shias and Kurds would share his view of Iraq during the era of Hussein. His view on LGBT rights is quite liberal–he supports equal rights for LGBT Americans–but his opinion of homosexuality is surely entrenched in Islamic philosophy that is emphatic in its connection to nurture rather than nature as the source of behavior. But it is his belief that discrimination based on skin color is non-existent among Muslims that was most surprising. He states emphatically that Islamic instruction has settled the issue of racism within the Muslim faith, but there is no escaping history’s impact on the present. All the major religions have histories of racism, and those histories of race and religion contribute to our current attitudes toward people of color, whether you are Christian or Muslim, Black or White. With these topics aside, I have chosen for the purpose of this essay to focus on how the experiences of his young life have changed his concept of home and family, concluding that his journey from Iraq to America has expanded said concept from one vested in multi-generational unity and security in his former homeland, to one that includes a new reality of home and family in his new homeland, while he struggles to extricate himself from the grips of familial discord.

Born in Iraq during the reign of Saddam Hussein, before the American invasion in 2003, Lujain enjoyed a middle-class life of comfort and security with his mother and two brothers, in a house owned by his grandfather, along with two uncles, an aunt, and their children. His parents were divorced, and his father lived in the United Arab Emirates, where he worked as a civil engineer. Forced to flee Iraq to escape escalating sectarian and ethnic violence unleashed by the American invasion of 2003, he and his family found themselves living in the United Arab Emirates with the man he felt abandoned them. Lujain would be pressed to create a new definition of home in a new land, with a father he didn’t know.

A huge smile stretches across his face as the warmth of happy memories of close family ties and a carefree life flood the room when Lujain talks about growing up in Iraq. Although his parents are divorced and he has very little contact with his father, he still looks back on this time with fondness: “I mean this time you could say that even though I don’t really remember what really happens, but it definitely, probably was the best time of my life…I know we had like a really big happy family…” He lived in a large multi-generational home built by his grandfather, with his mother, two brothers, and a host of cousins, aunts, and uncles that filled the space left vacant by his father’s absence. He speaks fondly about school, and a life without “concerns,” although his memory may be impacted by his age at the time. Tisha Ornstein and Lixia Yang, Professor and Associate Professor, respectively, of Psychology at Ryerson University, suggest in their article “The Effect of Emotion-Focused Orientation at Retrieval on Emotional Memory in Young and Older Adults,” that “…the emotion-focused orientation instruction at free recall strengthened the emotional enhancement effect, particularly the positivity bias, in young adults,” meaning that, if we hear positive things about a particular time or place–even if we were too young to truly remember events ourselves–we will create positive associations with that time or place. I believe the necessity of positive memories is paramount to Lujain’s positive associations with national identity and concepts of home and family.

To focus on what he remembers as positive from his childhood assists him in contending with the painful absence of his father, a subject that surfaces immediately in our discussion: h states, “…even though there was a part of me, you know—I don’t have a dad, I don’t talk to him, don’t speak to him—he almost like from my point of view, he almost never cared,” suggesting to me that, even though this may have been a happy time in his life, the absence of his father impacts his memories of this time perhaps more than he realizes. He has to remember this time as happy so as not to deal with the vacuum his father’s absence created. According to Dennis Balcom in his article “Absent Fathers: Effects on Abandoned Sons,” appearing in The Journal of Men’s Studies, “Paradoxically, abandoned sons often have intense feelings related to their fathers…The son’s reaction leads him to reject the importance of his father,” which explains the dismissive tone in Lujain’s voice when talking about his dad. “Until the son acknowledges his unfulfilled needs and longing for his father, he can remain in turmoil about himself…” While I didn’t notice any indication of inner turmoil, this could be due to the role his uncles played in his life. Assuming the place left vacant by his father—“they are like my real fathers, more than my own”—their presence was no doubt valuable in his nurturing, and in the creation of a strong sense of self. Reminiscing about the place where family unity and a life without violence and ethnic unrest still existed inadvertently exposed a wound left untreated by the absence of a parent, an absence that, when juxtaposed against the presence of his uncles, feeds his concept of family in Iraq.

The smile is gone; the warm happy memories have turned into cold recriminations against the liberators who promised freedom, but instead deprived him of the home and family he had come to cherish and rely on. Life in Iraq after the American invasion had descended into violence and chaos: “It was really bad…one of the things that I remember…there was a, you know, they bombed a car…they put a bomb there, and it exploded…a lot of people get killed, and it was really nearby my house…it was really scary…” According to Lujain, the American invasion unleashed sectarian violence and threats of invasion from Iran, Iraq’s closest and most feared neighbor, which Saddam Hussein, through fear and intimidation, managed to keep at bay, a point confirmed by Savera Someshwar, Managing Editor of rediff.com, in her article “Iraqi society has been extremely polarized.” “What started as a US-led coalition invasion to topple Saddam Hussein turned into one of the most brutal sectarian conflicts the modern world has seen…a terrible communal bloodbath that is still continuing,” not to liberate and free the people from the clutches of a dictator, but instead to gain control of the country’s vast oil reserves, “more like colonialism stuff,” he said. He also believes, like many Iraqis, that it was the responsibility of the Iraqi people to depose Saddam Hussein and liberate their own country. He railed against the devastation done to his country by the so-called liberators: “…you just made things worse for me, the United States intervention made my life just miserable. What kind of freedom is that, freedom by killing people, by bombing them?” Home for Lujain and his fellow Iraqis had become a minefield of terror and violence, ripping apart families, destabilizing the security and economy of the nation, pitting religious factions against one another, and destroying the home of his memories, thanks to the benevolence of their liberators, the U.S. government.

Life became so unbearable in Iraq that the family fled and was forced to turn to the father that had abandoned them for assistance. “He called my dad and talked to him, and my dad finally have some emotion I guess, and he said, ‘OK I’m going to come to Jordan and I want to see you guys.’” Lujain was visibly upset by the memory of having to ask the man he felt rejected him for help. If there was anyone else the family could have contacted for help, his face told me, they would have. So, against his better judgment, he and his family went to Jordan, and eventually moved to the United Arab Emirates with a man he didn’t even recognize when he saw him on the street: “I knew who he was only because when I was sitting there I heard like his name, they were shouting his name, so I was like OK that’s him.” It had been years since the last time he’d seen his father; he was still a very young child – four or five years old – when his parents divorced and was now twelve years old, having not seen his father in all that time. “Preparing the abandoned son to engage the absent father begins with clarifying the son’s unspoken wishes. What did he always want to say…ask…share with his father?” (Balcom 6). There wasn’t time for any of this for Lujain or the family, and the reunion turned out to be disaster. “It’s kind of like they really devastating each other’s lives, their really making their lives miserable, and my life…” A year into the reunion, his parents’ relationship began to go downhill, and, according to Lujain, it was his father’s inability to come to terms with abandoning his family, that most likely lead to his parents’ divorce in the first place. Whichever is the case, life in the United Arab Emirates was fraught with contention and Lujain found himself ensconced within the dynamics of a family that were as chaotic as the nation he was forced to flee. Could he create home under these conditions?

After an antagonistic five years together, the Alobaide family decided to immigrate to America, a decision precipitated by the financial crisis of 2008, which limited employment opportunities for the father. The immigration process proved humiliating for Lujain: “…it’s kind of funny and insulting at the same time. She would like as you a question like; when you go to the United States, would you form a terrorist group and bomb people?” With Saddam Hussein deposed, Shia and Kurdish communities that had suffered violent human rights abuses at the hands of Hussein’s Ba’athist government targeted Sunnis, whom they associated with Saddam. But Lujain points out that not all Sunnis liked or supported Saddam, nor was he a man motivated by faith: “Saddam was pretty much a secular guy, he never cared about Islam or any religion, if he had done so he wouldn’t have been the dictator he had became.” Unfortunately, the opportunity to discover that they shared a universal distaste for their former leader was lost, and differences were inflamed by an occupying nation’s desire to colonize the region and exploit its natural resources. The nation’s oil reserves were the targets of daily attacks by Iranian-sponsored terrorist groups, whose sole purpose was to further destabilize the country and gain control of the nation’s economy, in competition with the occupying force. Law and order were non-existent; looting and kidnapping were on the rise, and the country responsible for unleashing this reign of terror on their homeland was now asking them if they would be a threat to this nation. In an interview with John Malkin of Voices For Creative Nonviolence, Iraqi national Walid Waleed talked about what he and his fellow Iraqis have experienced since the invasion in 2003: “On 9th March 2003 my cousin was injured…an American soldier shot her…” Waleed’s cousin was wearing an Arabic dishdasha–a long sleeved collarless garment–which was black, the same color Saddam Hussein’s fighters wore. The soldier couldn’t tell the difference because, according to Waleed, he “…he didn’t have the knowledge to see the fashion of women in an Arabic country.” Throughout the interview, Waleed goes on to describe the difficulty of living without the everyday conveniences most westerners take for granted: “security, electricity, fuel (gasoline, kerosene, cooking gas), jobs, education, medical care, and to get back our houses, which had been looted by Almahdy army, the correct spelling is al-Mahdi. Although Lujain and I had a good laugh about the ridiculous question asked by the immigration interviewer, it was obvious to us both that there was nothing funny about it considering what his country was enduring. The family was approved to immigrate to America, and Lujain would once again have to expand his concept of home and family to include a new homeland, and a new set of obstacles his family would face there.

A new beginning in America would include a new perception of the American people. “I had a lot of hatred towards Americans…I was like, those people who killed my people.” Understandably, Lujain’s view of American was negative considering what the American invasion did to his country. One of his relatives was jailed in Abu Ghraib prison, and witnessed many of the abuses suffered at the hands of American military personnel: “…they would be creative in the ways they tortured people,” he states. His bitterness rose to the surface when discussing the perceptions he believes Americans have of his people “terrorist,” “ignorant,” and “uneducated.” Susan Akram, writing for the Arab Studies Quarterly, suggests that “The demonization of Arabs and Muslims in America began well before the terrible tragedy of September 11, 2001,” and has been used to justify America’s neo-colonialist Middle East foreign policy, the vilification of Palestinians to justify support of the Israeli governments theft of Palestinian homeland, and US military interest in securing the natural resources–oil–of Arab countries to be exact. Moving to America has changed Lujain’s opinion of the American people. He no longer believes that all Americans hold negative stereotypes about Iraqis and want to hurt them: “…it’s not like those people really want to kill you, or just hate you for no reason…you can have a discussion with them.” He says he now understands that people often rely on stereotypes rather than knowledge of different cultures before forming opinions about particular groups. His concept of home and family has expanded to include America and her people.

Like most Americans, Lujain’s view of his new government and its political system is still in the love-hate stage. “We…definitely…have democracy, at least if you compare it to…other countries, but I think there is the United States foreign policy that is the problem.” He believes the American people don’t pay enough attention to what is going on in other countries, and don’t always consider the impact our policies have on people around the world. He may be partially correct—most Americans don’t know much about our nation’s foreign policy—but it’s a mistake on his part to believe that people from other countries know any more about their nation’s foreign policy. I’ve often found that immigrants from other countries that I have spoken with are misinformed about foreign policy decisions made by this nation and theirs. But our foreign policy isn’t the only thing he has an issue with; he doesn’t understand why the richest, most powerful nation in the world would have such a dismal educational system or homelessness: “…and the…shock that I got is how does a country like the United States, that do not have a universal health care…” He pointed out that even in Iraq everyone had access to health care, guaranteed free education from elementary school to college, and there was no such thing as homelessness, until after the American invasion. It would have been great if I could have defended America on these issues, but I couldn’t. Lujain was carving out a home for himself in a country that afforded him the ability to speak his mind on any subject, rather than the fear of doing so in his former homeland.

While he has grown to accept and embrace his new homeland–flaws and all–his nuclear family is still at odds with one another. When I suggested that the transition to this country had been tough on his family, he agreed: “Oh, definitely, and what make it difficult in my case is my parents, they hate each other.” He claims that both his parents want to play the “victim role,” most likely exacerbated by the fact that his father isn’t working: “…when you come from a foreign country they don’t recognize your bachelor degree, unless you go through some kind of process,” a man, who can’t support his family, and doesn’t always feel like a man. His brother is struggling to find his niche; he’s worked in maintenance, in a hotel, driven a taxi. “Now he’s trying to find a security position, he keeps changing. He has a lot of problems, and he’s actually created a lot of problems for the family as well.” We didn’t discuss his brother much, but perhaps he isn’t having as easy a time adjusting to life in America as Lujain. It would be interesting to hear his point of view on America, and how he feels about living here. What is clear is the almost non-existent relationship between Lujain and his father. They barely speak to one another except for the occasional “hi and sometimes goodnight.” Consequently, Lujain spends most of his time, as much as he can, away from home. “The only reason I would go home is if I just want a place to sleep,” he stated. “Marital conflict can cause adjustment issues, complicate conflict resolution styles and alter emotional security,” according to Melody Causewell, of livestrong.com. Life in America has provided Lujain with opportunities he did not have in Iraq, opened his mind to different people and cultures, and has impacted his concept of home both positively and negatively.

Lujain’s concept of home has expanded from one vested in multi-generational unity and security in his former homeland, to include the reality of a new life in America with all the freedom and privileges citizenship affords him, while caught within parental discord. Unlike Iraq, America offers Lujain options that can allow him to change his family dynamic. He can encourage his parents, and his entire family to get counseling, or as a last result, he can convince his mother to divorce his father. Whichever decision they make, they are not alone, many American families experience conflict as a result of infidelity, economic instability, battles over how to raise the children, or for many other reasons. Fortunately for Lujain, his family can come through these difficult times and survive. He can never relive his memories of family life in Iraq, but he and his family can conceive and create a new American family to rival those memories.

Works Cited

“Lujain Alobaide.” Personal interview. 21 Mar. 2014.

Akram, Susan M. “The Aftermath of September 11, 2001: The Targeting of Arabs and

Muslims in America.” Arab Studies Quarterly 24.2/3 (2002): 1-61. Ethnic NewsWatch. Web. 16 May 2014. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/220916?&gt;.

Balcom, Dennis A. “Absent Fathers: Effects on Abandoned Sons.” The Journal of Men’s Studies 6.N3 (1998): 1-25. Gale. Web. 25 Apr. 2014. <http://gale.com/marinacounselingcenter/&gt;.

Causewell, Melody. “The Psychological Effects of Marital Conflicts on Adolescents.” LIVESTRONG.COM. LIVESTRONG.COM, 18 June 2013. Web. 14 May 2014.

Malkin, John. “Life in Iraq: An Interview – February 2008.” Voices for Creative Nonviolence. Voices for Creative Nonviolence, Feb. 2008. Web. 16 May 2014.

Someshwar, Savera R. “Iraqi Society Has Been Extremely Polarized.” India Abroad 38.25 (2008): 1-2. ProQuest. Web. 27 Apr. 2014. <http://search.proquest.com/docview/362769734?&gt;.

Ornstein, Tisha J., and Lixia Yang. “The Effect of Emotion-Focused Orientation at Retrieval on Emotional Memory in Young and Older Adults.” EBSCO. Apr. 2011. Web. 20 May 2014.

Lujain’s Transcript

C.K. Ramsey: We know you were born in Iraq, What was your life like there?

Lujain Alobaide: First I can tell you my life before and after maybe the war if you would be interested in that.

CR: Which war, do you mean the American invasion?

LA: In 2003, yea so basically even before the war, I mean technically my parents were technically divorced. I was living with my aunt, my uncle I have two uncles, my aunt, and my grandpa they all have like their kids and my family. I have like two other brothers and my mom, we were all living in the same house it was a really big house. Like I don’t know eight rooms or something like eight bedrooms, yea it was really big, it was my grandfather’s house because, as I told you my parents were technically divorced, and my father was in the United Arab of Emirates. During that time I think they were divorced in somewhere in 1998, and I was really young I was somewhere like four years old. I mean this time you could say that even though I don’t really remember what really happens, but it definitely probably was the best time of my like because you know I was a kid, and you know I know we had like a really big happy family you could say. Like you know with my uncles aunts and stuff I was technically really happy you know, go to school there were no concerns and stuff even though there was a part of me you know, I don’t have a dad I don’t talk to him, don’t speak to him, he almost like from my point of view, he almost never cared because he just came, like the second time I ever saw him after they divorced was after seven years, no it was actually even more, yea cause the second time I saw him was in 2006 and it was not in Iraq anyway, we’ll back, we’ll come back to that I guess, so he after they like, after they divorced they technically came, I mean he technically came once before he traveled you know, he just came and bring some candies, I remember and then after that I never seen him. He maybe he, I mean my brother, my oldest brother, he sometime call him like maybe and we talk like once in each six months over the phone and less than one minute so there is like a really big gap that still affects us until today

CR: Yea growing up without a dad is tough. So you say your brother talks to him every six months?

LA: Yea, I also like, I like probably when I grow up more when I was maybe 11 or 12 actually. I probably talk to him like really maybe 1 minute or so.

CR: What did your father do for a living?

LA: He’s civil engineer.

CR: Did your mom work?

LA: My mom during that time no.

CR: Your family in Iraq, you say you had a big house so would you say you lived a middle-class lifestyle?

LA: Uh you could say that, because it was actually my grandfather who built it, and my aunt, I mean you can see we were definitely dependent on my uncles, they are more like they are like they are really my fathers, they are like my real fathers more than my own you can say even though I living with my actual dad right now, which we can talk about later its really complicated.

CR: Do families in Iraq tend to live together in multi-generational households?

LA: They do that as long as you know it’s a big house and there’s no problems, you know sometimes when the kids they got married they go out they buy new house, but usually if you are talking about in terms of middle-class or working-class I mean like maybe it’s just my point of view, like maybe especially like before, maybe 90 percent of the people they had their own house, it was really to see a person who is renting or is homeless there is no such a thing.

CR: No such thing as homelessness?

LA: No not before the war that’s for sure.

CR: What was the environment like was it urban like San Francisco, or rural?

LA: It was definitely mixed but in terms of my life we lived in the capital, which was more like, you can’t really say like San Francisco, San Francisco is really much more modern than Bagdad. During that time I lived near by the airport which was good before the war, but during the war and after, it was really big problem because there was almost the major battles happened there, it was kind of just normal place there were no mall or fancy buildings no.

CR: What about school, were they like American schools or were they traditional religious schools?

LA: I wouldn’t say really religious, but the education system there is fundamentally different than here, that is definitely for sure, ah the school before the war it was good but it was kind of like, they really glorify the president of the country you know, that kind of dictatorship like in every page of the book like when you open the book there is a page that has the picture of Saddam Hussein who was the president of Iraq at the time, as you probably know, and perhaps some excerpts of things that he said some quotes and stuff.

CR: What did you think of Saddam Hussein?

LA: Well that’s a good question, but you really have to know that as a person, I mean he’s definitely a dictatorship you know there’s no argument about that, but if you compare the country in his era and afterwards it would definitely, even the people who hate him they would definitely tell you that when we were in his era there was life much better than now, at least we have some kind of security and stability, now we could anything could happen a bomb or something could kill a lot of people now there is a lot of blood.

CR: Although you may not have liked him, you felt safer when he was in power and there was a better standard of living?

LA: Definitely.

CR: Are you a Sunni, or?

LA: I am a Sunni.

CR: What are the different factions?

LA: Well there is the Sunni and there is the Shia and there is the Curds but the Curds are kind of centered in the north area.

CR: What’s the difference?

LA: Well its basically they’re all Muslims the Sunni and the Shia, it’s really an old you know a kind of stupid argument I would call it because there’s no actual arguments there’s just this has been created you know for when you want to have make a civil war or something they will play on this, the difference between them. When the prophet Mohammed, of the Muslims, when he died there has to be like a successor for him, and during that time there were like four men they called the righteous successors, ah there was their names are Abu Bakr, Umar ibn al-Khattab, Ali ibu Abi Talib, they came after the prophet they succeeded him. The Shia believe that his son-in-law, Ali should be the first successor after him because they believe that the Caliph, you know the one that succeeded the prophet should be from the household of the prophet not anyone else, while the Sunni’s believe that the one who should succeed the prophet could be anyone but he had to meet the certain eligibilities, he doesn’t have to be within the household of the prophet, but again this really did not came into place until maybe 500 hundred or more years after the prophet had died so it’s kind of like even ridiculous how things are being now.

CR: So it’s kind of like Christianity in that when Jesus died we got Jews, Catholics, Baptist, and whatever, with everyone saying we’re the real ones, and someone else saying, no we’re the real ones, that kind of thing?

LA: Yea, exactly.

CR: Why did you come to America?

LA: Well we came to it’s kind of like we’re really jumping around cause I mean first of all before we came to America I have to tell you about it.

CR: OK, tell me.

LA: Well after the war you know it was really difficult because there was all kind of civil war all kind of you know people get killed there was a lot incidents that happen to me and my family and to my uncles.

CR: Are these things the Americans did, or because of the American invasion?

LA: It’s definitely because of the American invasion because when they invade the country there was no kind of sovereignty, there was not like one person, there was no specific group that is taking control. There was like Iran our neighbor, you know the country Iran, they was like controlling some areas, there was like Americans, there was like all kind of those players. It was really bad, I mean after 2006 there was a civil war which we had never had before as long as I remember, the first time I knew what Sunni and Shia mean was in 2006 when that happened, ah there was a lot of incidents. One of the things that I remember, we were building a new room in my grandfather’s house and there was a you know they bombed a car, you know they put a lot of bombs there and it exploded somehow, and I don’t know how they remote control maybe, somehow a lot of people get killed and it was really nearby my house, and so I was walking like, I was on a ladder and I was just climbing up and that happens. I almost fell down, it was really scary, and then they did some nasty things. One of the nasty things they did at that time, and people when you see people getting killed and stuff you do, you know what do you do, you call the ambulance and you get help and stuff, so people would be like really crowded right so they do really nasty thing they would put another bomb another car and they would also bomb it so when people was like you know get really packed and crowded they would bomb the second one.

CR: How did the Iraqi people view the Americans, did they see us as people coming to help, or did they see it as an invasion, people there to do more harm than good?

LA: Well you’re talking about just my opinion or the Iraqi people?

CR: Either one, your opinion or things you may have heard about how people felt about the Americans.

LA: Well I would say that the majority of the people know that the United States wanted to invade Iraq, not to free us definitely it was more like maybe oil purpose you know more like colonialism stuff you know, it was not about freeing people. I could really give you a rational answer for that, if you compare the status of the country before and after the invasion, you compare that and you will know definitely that the, I would call it the occupation or the invasion, it was not to free people definitely and a lot of people thought that too. On the other hand they also wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein, so there was this and that. I think like there should have been a kind of like revolution to make that guy step down without you know a phony intervention.

CR: You felt it was the responsibility of the Iraqi people to get him out and we should have just minded our business?

LA: Yea definitely, definitely, I mean definitely because I mean you just made things worse for me, the United States intervention made my life just miserable. I was happy, I was just living there and everything was, I hadn’t had any concerns before even though I had problems with my dad that wasn’t a big problem, it was OK you know, I’m not going to be homeless, I’m going to have food to eat you know, education was free even in the university it was all free I mean you just came in and you try to free me. What kind of freedom is that, freedom by killing people, by bombing them?

CR: When you came to America and you heard how people in this country talked about the invasion did you think we just didn’t get it, did you think the we didn’t know the truth that maybe our government didn’t tell us the truth about the reasons we went over there, or that we just didn’t care?

LA: Well to be honest, I felt like some people are really kind of really ignorant about the issue. Cause some people, they don’t even know where Iraq is located, their like oh really your from Iraq, and some others they really sympathized and apologized, and you know it was really nice you know, to see that at least some people they have sympathy, but in my opinion it was like a lot of people, as Americans they are really more concerned about, you know, their lives, their matters. Which is really understandable because they just want to make a living, and they don’t really have a lot of time to watch the news, which is already corrupted, they just want to get some food, get their child a good education. I didn’t feel like people had time to seek this kind of knowledge about wars and stuff, you have no idea. Remember the reason why they invaded, the actual reason they announced in the media. They say that Iraq had a massive amount of weapons of mass destruction, yea and it was never found, and they say Iraq was linked to al Qaeda, which they totally hate each other. I mean if you really think about it, how many people died in 9/11? Three thousand five thousand, ok, do you have any idea how many Iraqis or Pakistanis died in those wars? No let’s just talk about Iraq, maybe it’s like at least two-hundred thousand, that’s just those who died, and millions have been flown out of the country like refugee, and I just come here too as a refugee status.

CR: After experiencing that in Iraq, what was I like to come to this country, the country that invaded your country, and turned your life upside down?

LA: Well it’s a kind a like you don’t really have another choice, well if you stayed in Iraq you most likely will be killed there or something. Because my uncles, they went out of Iraq because they had someone threaten them, they left an envelope and they put one bullet in it, and they said that if you don’t pay us this amount of money we are going to kill you, or kidnap you know. They could do a lot of stuff, and there was a lot of thing actually happening during that time, so they are not lying to you, they would really do that. That’s why my uncles went, but the reason why I went, well before I came here I went to the United Arab Emirates, and how did that happen was, basically my older brother, he wanted to go out of Iraq because when he grow up as a teenager he didn’t feel comfortable in my grandfather’s house, because you know there, it’s kind of like my uncles kids, he have like two daughters, and it’s like another guy who’s also a teenager, and it’s not likable, I don’t know I thinks that’s the reason he wanted to go. In a teenage.

CR: Is this a custom thing, where men of a certain age, shouldn’t be around girls of a certain age?

LA: I think so, yea. I mean, I think my uncle didn’t like my brother being there at that time. I think so. I mean that’s what I get from what happened, like he never told him, you need to go, no never, and they were actually planning to give us a separate apartment, that was the plan, and then it changed. He called my dad, and talked to him, and my dad finally have, some emotion I guess, and he said ok I’m going to come to Jordan and I want to see you guys. And then we went there, we went there with my auntie, like my brothers sister, which I almost never knew before, and we went on a trip, by car, we drove to Jordon, and here’s the funny thing, we went to a place and we stayed with my father’s sister. Before he came my brother was going to the mall, and my brother was walking in that neighborhood, and then my father came, and my father, he shout at him and say hey, I don’t remember what he said I’m not sure, but like my brother didn’t recognize him, he was like who’s this guy, and he just went on.

CR: You hadn’t seen him in so long. Did you know who he was?

LA: I knew who he was only because when I was sitting there I heard like his name, they were shouting his name, so I was like ok that’s him.

CR: It must have been tough growing up without a dad, huh?

LA: Yea definitely, but it was even tougher to live with him, I would say, because what is happening now, technically it’s not, well here’s the thing, when he comes and then after that my uncle’s family they all fled and they just went out of Iraq, and they all came to live in Jordan, my father got reunited with my mom, which in my point of view, that should never, ever had happened you know. If I were like maybe at this age, or two years, or maybe one years ago, I would never, I would never, allow this to happen. It’s kind of like they really devastating each other’s lives, their really making their lives miserable, and my life, you know. We went to the United Arab Emirates with him and my mom, we stayed there for like five years before we came to the United States, well the reason why we left the United Arab Emirates is because after the financial crisis of 2008, there was a big change in the construction business, so you know the projects were really slowing down, and there was like a lot of financial problems in his job, so my uncle during that time, he decided he would apply to an organization called the international organization for immigration, so he applied, and he helped us and somehow, and we applied through him, I guess, and we had our first interview. We flew from the United Arab Emirates to Jordan, we had like several interviews, they like ask you about your life, they asked you if you give them the permission to, you know, look for every single detail about your life, and we give them that permission, you know, just by security purposes I guess, and there a funny thing that, during one of the interviews, they were like, there were three interviews, the first two you meet with like Jordanian’s, they are like, they are associated with the organization, but the third one, you have to like meet with the American representative or something, and this (he laughs), is really funny. She would ask, it’s kind of funny and insulting at the same time, she would like ask you a question, like when you go to the United States, would you form a terrorist group and bomb people? (I laugh) I’m serious, she would really ask you that, and you know, it was kind of ridiculous.

CR: Like if someone were going to do, you would really tell them, right?

LA: You know, I mean are you serious? Why are you even asking such a question?

CR: That’s crazy. So, when you first arrived in America, where did you go?

LA: Well, when I first arrived, my uncle came before us, so he set up an apartment, and we went to Daly City. We lived there like for one year almost, and then we went to Pacifica, which is where I reside now. There’s a lot of things going on also, like my parent’s, when we came here, we’ve been here like almost three years, or two, and maybe seven or eight months, out of this time, say maybe two or three months, they have not been talking to each other, they are almost like divorced, but we live in the same place, and they just communicate through me and my brother, which I find is really despicable, they just make our life, you know difficult.

CR: You’ve only been in America like eight months?

LA: No, like two years and eight months.

CR: Oh, two years and eight months. Your English is really great, I’m sure that’s something that people say all the time right? But it is. I know people born and raised here, who can’t speak English.

CR: When I first came, I didn’t really like speak any English, the only words I really knew was like, hi, how are you, good afternoon, you know, that’s it, but I went to high school in Daly City, Westmore, and I really study my ass, and I really like, I really wanted to learn, it was definitely a big shock, it kinda like you were in Mars, and you came to the Earth, like everything was different.

CR: Do you think the schools are better here, or better in Iraq?

LA: No, it’s better definitely here.

CR: Americans complain about the school system here.

LA: Well comparatively.

CR: Do you think we’re spoiled?

LA: Spoiled?

CR: Do you think we’re spoiled?

LA: What do you mean, in what sense?

CR: Do you think we don’t appreciate the educational system we have here?

LA: Well no, I don’t think you guys are spoiled, because there is a lot of bad things, I mean there is bad things, but on the other hand there is also some advantages, maybe like Americans complain, about maybe that, I don’t know. What do you guys complain about?

CR: Everything, Americans complain about everything, we’re a spoiled people, we’re used to having a lot?

LA: I think the problem is that, like with the American system it’s more kind of private, there is a lot of money issues going on, I think that as a county the United States should like, even at the University level, that should be free, you’re like almost the greatest nation on earth right now, so how come you have people who are homeless, or you have people who don’t have access to education, well compared to the poor underdeveloped, I don’t know, like the third world countries like mine.

CR: Yea, that’s the debate that some people are having right now. I think America should have free education for everyone, but I think there are reasons why we don’t. I mean America has a long history of colonialism and racism and discrimination on a lot of different levels, and just think that we simply don’t want to educate all of our people.

LA: I see, which is I think luckily in my country, I would say that actually, as far as like racial, or skin color is concerned, there was like almost no such a thing, like because I think Islam has like banished, or what is the word to say, like abolished that idea of racial…

CR: Do mean Saddam?

LA: No, I’m saying about Islam, yea the prophet like, when you know like one hundred four thousand years ago, like one his famous saying is that there is no difference between you know, like red, black, white, whatever color, or ethnicity that person has, it’s only about how righteous, how spiritual, or good you are to people.

CR: Do you have black people in Iraq?

LA: There is in the southern Iraq, there’s not a lot you know but it’s actually like this, in the southern area of Iraq, most of the people are darker skin, but in Basra, that province that I was talking to you about, they are very dark skinned, but like who cares. We didn’t have such a, you know, I’ve never thought about a difference between a person as a color of skin, it doesn’t mean anything to me.

CR: Do you have an American dream?

LA: Well definitely, I mean I have a big hopes about America, you know just like what we’re reading right now, everyone thinks that America, this the country of opportunities, a county where you can make money, a country of prosperity, you know all this stuff.

CR: Do you have a particular dream for yourself? Like, how old are you now?

LA: 20.

CR: 20? You’re a baby. (We both laugh), do you think, in thirty years, this is what I would like to be, this how I would like to be living?

LA: Well, I mean my dream is really like to have a really stable job, not like any job, I’m really interested in innovation and those kinds of things. I really wish that someday I could make my own discovery or something.

CR: So are you talking high tech innovation, or scientific innovation?

LA: Probably a little more with scientific innovation, rather than high tech innovations.

CR: You want to find a cure for cancer? (We laugh)

LA: Well not in biological stuff, I’m more like into physics maybe.

CR: Now that you’ve been here a while, do you still feel the same way about America, as when you first arrived?

LA: No definitely, when I was there (Iraq), I had a lot of hatred towards Americans because I was like those people, even though I came, I was like those people who killed my people, killed distant relatives, one of my relatives was like jailed in, I’m sure you heard about that Abu Ghraib scandal, and one of them was there, and he saw all kinds of torture, and they would do things you know, they would be creative in the ways how they tortured people, and America called my people terrorist, ignorant, uneducated, you know all those kind of stereotypes, so definitely, I didn’t like Americans before, but when I came here, I understand what really Americans mean. When you are there you understand that Americans are white, that’s really the perception over there, but when I came here, especially in California, no it’s not like that at all, you got all those kinds of people, from different backgrounds, there have different cultures, and they don’t even know where Iraq is, or they don’t really, they’re just trying to live their lives. They’re really nice people you know, it’s not like those people really want to kill you, or just hate you for no reason and, if you talk to them some people will understand, you can have a discussion with them, it’s not like, I think in terms of like western and eastern culture there’s definitely stereotypes going on, they kind of like flash back on each other, like Arabs would say Americas are corrupted, they see all the girls are naked, and then that’s kind of bullshit, and other’s would say your ignorant and you don’t respect your women, you know.

CR: Yea, there are misconceptions on both sides. It reminds me of this story of a group of American women I saw on a T.V. show somewhere, who thought they were supporting Arab women, complaining that Arab women shouldn’t be forced to wear the burka’s, and how Arab societies were oppressive toward women. Then a couple of Arab women in the audience stood up and asked what the women were talking about. We’re not forced to wear burka’s, it’s a part of our religion, and it’s what we choose to do. The point being, we don’t know each other, we only have stereotypes to rely on.

LA: Well since you brought that in, as you know, I’m a Muslim, but my mom, she doesn’t wear a hijab, but as a Muslim, I really wish that someday she will be convinced, and she will wear it, because I mean the idea behind that is really not that, as a Muslim we believe that women should be dressed modestly, and therefore should be she should be treated for her own personality and not for like her looks.

CR: But do you believe that it’s her choice?

LA: Definitely, I mean who knows, at the end God will judge her, it doesn’t mean, I would not say that this is good woman because she wearing modestly, and she’s half naked she’s a bad person, no definitely.

CR: Not even a stripper? (we laugh)

LA: Even a stripper you know, she might have some kind of experience in her life that forced her to be a stripper, you know maybe she lived in poverty, which is really, and that’s the peoples problem, I mean like, we are too judging on people without understanding their situation, or what caused them to do that.

CR: What do you think about our government?

LA: The American government?

CR: Yea, our government? It’s your government now also.

LA: Well, like in terms of parties you mean?

CR: It doesn’t have to be about the political parties, I think they’re both the same anyway?

LA: We have definitely like, we have democracy, at least if you compare it to like other countries, but I think there is the United States foreign policy that is the problem, and there is a lot of problems inside, like you got the education system problems, I mean we just mentioned that some people don’t have access to education, you have homeless people, and the really shock that I got is how does a country like the United States, that do not have a universal health care, I mean seriously, if someone doesn’t have money, he can just die or something because he doesn’t have money to pay.

CR: So were you surprised at the push-back against Obama-Care?

LA: Well technically, this push is really, there is a people, they are only concerned about money, they don’t care about people, they know they have enough money to pay insurance, so they don’t care about other people, if they will have the opportunity to purchase insurance or not, that’s the kind of thing I don’t like about Republicans in general, I mean I shouldn’t say Republicans, all of them no, but those ideas of, I think they are really being selfish, in terms of, they have money so they really don’t care about people, they are just pro-business, they just want to make a profit out of people agony, they take worker’s rights, there is a lot of things, the minimum wage, and all these kinds of issues.

CR: Do you like the idea that in America, if you don’t agree with a position, you can speak-out about it?

LA: I mean that’s definitely a really good thing, I mean if you were in Iraq in Saddam Hussein era, if you talk or said the wrong things about him they would definitely get you.

CR: Would they take you for a ride?

LA: Take you for a ride, yea, a long ride. Definitely freedom of speech is really important, but I think it’s also kind of limited in somehow. You can’t really say anything you want, and there is also some kind of implicit stereotypes, like when you want to apply for a job or something there is always some kind of racism, or some sort of discrimination going on.

CR: There’s the official America, then there’s the real America.

LA: Yea, exactly.

CR: Do you think you’ve suffered any discrimination in America? Particularly if people find out your Iraqi, because just looking at you, you look like the average white guy.

LA: I’m looking like the average white guy?

CR: Yea, when I saw you in class, I never thought you were middle-eastern, I thought like the suburbs. But when people find out your Iraqi, do you think you have discriminated against you?

LA: Well sometimes yes, sometimes no. I mean sometimes you, they, I don’t know why they have that idea you came from the desert, you are on a camel. Some people have those kinds of ideas, on the other hand there are people who really sympathize with me, they would apologize you know we are sorry. Then from that I really understand that those people they are really nice, they are not the same, there are some really good people, which is true for every race and every country.

CR: What do you think of us, the American people?

LA: It’s interesting that it’s kind of like multiple countries in one country. You got the White community, you got the Black community, you got the Latino community, then you got the Asian community. There’s all those kind of things, and each one has their own culture and stuff. I think like the Whites in general, they’re really afraid or something. There’s like something going on with them in terms of the changing demographic in the United States. They fear, I don’t know, I guess they fear change.

CR: They fear minority status.

LA: Yea I think so, definitely. I think that’s an on-going issue, that kind of racial thing. I don’t think it will ever end.

CR: Many people thought Obama’s election meant the end of racism. Shit, the tea party said hell no, and they just went after him with everything they had.

LA: There is a lot of things like, they will do everything just to disagree with him. Like even if they agree on something, they will disagree just because, you know.

CR: A lot of Obama’s policies were originally Republican policies. If you look at his policies, he’s not really a Democrat he’s really a liberal Republican.

LA: I don’t this idea of just two parties. I think there should be like an independent, or like a third party.

CR: We do have Independent’s, but most independents tend to vote along one party line or another, usually with the Democrats.

LA: Yea, well they don’t have a party, that’s what I’m saying.

CR: Let’s get back to this. Do you still have family and friends back in Iraq?

LA: I have some friends.

CR: Do you stay in touch with them?

LA: Yes I do. I mean in terms of family, I have like some on my father’s side, some uncles and aunties, but I don’t have any family relationship with them. We never spoke, we never talk. We’re kind of like strangers to each other, but in terms of my friends, I have some friends there that I went to elementary school with, and we try to keep in touch. One of them, I thought he was killed, but happily, and surprisingly, I found him, he actually found me on Facebook.

CR: What does he think about you being here?

LA: (rye laugh), well if you’re talking about him specifically, he’s kind of OK with that because he kind of understands why I came here, but if you’re talking about what people in general think about someone who is in America that’s a different story. They will, it’s kind of like those fallacies you know, like you’re living in the heaven, all the money, you got the big house on the beach. Their implication is they see a lot of movies, and they think that really is what America really is like, everyone is living a happy life, this tone of optimism. Yea, when they disagree with you on something it’s like, ah now your being an American ha. Like they tease you, oh now you’re an American now, they’ve spoiled you’re mind, now your corrupted.

CR: Would you like your friends back in Iraq to come to America?

LA: Well, I know like some of them they wanted to come because there are like all kinds of problems you can imagine, in Iraq, like for example, when I was there electricity is like one of them in terms of like utilities, the government is really; the only word I can think of is bad word, I want to say the government is fucked up.

CR: Oh, you can say that, it’s an American thing.

LA: Interestingly, I wouldn’t say that if I was speaking Arabic, I don’t know, I guess it’s the American part of me.

CR: You see we’ve corrupted you just like your friends said.

LA: It’s not true.

CR: Was it like that before the war – before the invasion – in terms of like, did you have the basic necessities in life, did you have electricity and all that stuff?

LA: Uh, in terms of electricity, it was much better than after the war. There was no water shortage, there was no like gas – which we have a lot of oil, and after the war people stand in line like for a day just to get gas.

CR: Is it still like that?

LA: No it’s better, but I think the worst time was like 2006 to 2008. It was terrible, it was like all kinds of problems. It was civil war, people killing each other, there were a lot of things going on.

CR: Do you work here?

LA: Now, no.

CR: Have you worked here?

LA: I worked like, really not a long time, maybe two month or three, with a self-employed, but he’s an Iraqi too so. I haven’t experience working for American supervisors. My brothers work, my father he doesn’t work because his, you know when you come from a foreign country they don’t recognize your bachelor degree, unless you go through some kind of process.

CR: Yea I’ve heard about that, but your brothers work here?

LA: Yeah.

CR: What kind of work do they do?

LA: Well, one of them he’s currently working also with a guy, he mainly do like construction, not construction, maintenance in buildings, they like fix lights, they paint, I guess they do a lot of this. Its manual job you could say. The other one he used to work as a break-faster, like in a hotel.

CR: A break-faster?

LA: You know the guys who they serve breakfast.

CR: Oh he’s a cook?

LA: No he doesn’t cook.

CR: He’s a waiter?

LA: Kind of like a waiter, but you can’t really say a waiter. It’s like, I remember his position it’s something like a break-faster.

CR: Breakfast?

LA: It’s not breakfast, I know what is a breakfast, but.

CR: I don’t know what that is – I guess you have to be rich to stay in those kinds of fancy hotels. The hotels I stay in have buffets.

LA: Yea they do, but what he told me about the hotel he was in was really not a good one and he quit the job actually, and he’s now he works in cliff-car or something. It’s like he’s a taxi, but he not an official taxi car, and now he’s trying to find a security position, he keeps changing. He has a lot of problems, and he actually created a lot of problems for the family as well, anyway.

CR: I guess the transition to this country has been tough on your family?

LA: Oh definitely, and what make it difficult in my case is my parents, they hate each other. They both want to play the victim role I guess. I mean he always like talk about things, I think he’s really, he plays the role of like he’s always right, he’s the one who has the right principles and ethics, he’s right and we’re all wrong, so if you disagree with him then you’re kind of the bad guy. I think in his earlier life he was totally the opposite person, he was like, I don’t know how do you say that in a good way. He was like in his marriage he drank, he goes with girls and all those things, and now even though I don’t do the things he do, and he still try to be strict, which is disgusting, I mean seriously, you’re talking about me, and don’t you remember what you were doing when you were my age and even when you were married.

CR: With the pressure your under, with the family and stuff, what do you do to release, do you talk to somebody, or get away with friends?

LA: Well, I spend most of my time just not going home. The only reason I would go home is if I just want a place to sleep.

CR: What do you do?

LA: You know for example, like I am in school now, I would just like do my homework. Usually if I would just go to a library or something and finish my homework, or do anything that keeps me away not to go home. Maybe I go to my uncle house, or you know, just not go home. And on the same side, he would always like, and my dad he would say, especially like we would have a celebration or something, and me and my mom would go my uncles house, he would say see you are corrupted, you are bad, you always leave me alone, but on the same hand, what do you want me to do? I can’t stay with you, you always argue and it’s not like you’re talking like we are a family. We’re not a family, we say we are, but we’re not, we’re just people living together, that’s all.

CR: Do you have any friends here?

LA: You mean American friends?

CR: Any kind of friends, outside of your family, outside of your siblings?

LA: I don’t think so, no. You mean like a close friend? No, which is really kind of sad, cause I used to have a lot of friends in Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, and I used to hang out with a lot of people, and when you see me you see like fifteen people with me but now I’m alone.

CR: I’m sorry to hear that, you should make some friends, you’re a nice guy, and I think that everybody can use friends.

LA: I think that the structure of like here is they just really want you to work, they kind of like make the system work this way that you go to school, then you go to work, then you go home, then you do this, then you do that. You don’t real have, it’s an individualistic society. It’s definitely that. You have a lot of individualism involved, there’s not a lot of social life here.

CR: Do you identify as Iraqi, or American or both?

LA: I’d say both, cause America has changed some ideas in me, I’ve grown as a person. I think I’ve been more open minded to accept different cultures, and different people, and different thoughts. I mean maybe one of them is the gay issue maybe, if you think like in terms of, if you ask any middle-east person – by the way I hate this term because it’s so misleading term.

CR: Middle-eastern?

LA: Yea, because the term was technically made by Britain when she was like,

CR: invading everybody,

LA: exactly, the term is like Great Britain is the center of the world, and those other countries are the middle-eastern in comparison to where Britain was, in the center. It is definitely geographically wrong, and because if you’re talking about geographically, you would only be talking about Afghanistan and other countries and nothing to do with location. Middle-eastern means all of them are Muslims, which is wrong, and that all of them are Arabs, which is wrong too.

CR: Europe and America get a lot of shit wrong. Would you ever return to Iraq for a visit, or to stay?

LA: If you’re saying like, you know, in maybe the coming ten years or so, I don’t think so because there is a lot of instability, and really the 2006 civil war has bisected the community, there is like a huge, huge corruption in the government, people are just like, they don’t really have like, they are not the same as,

CR: It’s not the same as when you were growing up there.

LA: no, but if things got better, I would definitely like to visit. My uncle, he went to Iraq like two years ago, and he took some pictures of some, you know, the house we were living in, and I like cried man. It’s like really sad, the neighborhood is just all different, the people; he said that even the peoples personalities have been changed. I don’t know.

CR: I think that happens in war, when people have suffered trauma. I can imagine living in Iraq, having a somewhat peaceful life, even if I didn’t like the dictator. I mean I didn’t like Bush, I think he was a dictator too, and then all of a sudden there’s war, and people I know die, bombs are being dropped on me, I would probably never be the same after that.

LA: Definitely, I think a lot has changed, and as I was telling you, I think I’ve changed, and I kind of accept people more.

CR: Well I guess this concludes our interview, and I really appreciate you doing this for me.

LA: No problem (very American).