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.
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 WorldEncyclopedia. Academic 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?
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.