To Emigrate or Not to Emigrate
I am an immigrant.
As a progressive my first inclination is to say of course, open all borders, keep America a free country, and by all means, may all the oppressed peoples of the world enter our gates.
After all, the Statue of Liberty was the closest thing to a goddess for my mother. My Iraqi mother and Egyptian father applied for immigration to the country of their dreams.
As Egyptian nationals without any family in the United States, we waited twenty years before we were considered. While I don’t wish such a long wait on anyone, there are conditions to be met.
For my mother, father, b
Twenty years of waiting, twenty years of preparing.
We were strangers in a land uncomfortable with being stuck with stateless foreigners, gaigin. Every few years government officials appeared at our door to question my father as to how he could be stateless, why didn’t he have a passport from his native land? “Ask Nasser!” my father finally snapped.
We could have made aliyah, we could have gone to Israel.
The 1950’s marked the great Mizrahi exodus from native Arab lands. Most of our Egyptian and Iraqi relatives were eventually settled in apartments in Ashdod (the Egyptian side) and Ramat Gan (the Iraqi side), after the misery of the tents and tin shacks of the maabarot.
My mother refused the aliyah option. Our relatives were suffering, kicked out of Egypt and Iraq with just one suitcase of clothing. Their nationality, all their possessions, their lives as they knew it, generation after generation for 2,500 years, was confiscated. Because they were Jews.
We were already out of Egypt and Iraq, we only became stateless, and we remained stateless for a long time because we did not make aliyah.
My mother was not only pragmatic, (“what would your father do there, they don’t need an import–exporter with no money”), she was afraid. The cries from the Farhud were still running strong in her veins. She was sixteen during the 1941 pro-Nazi anti-Jewish pogrom in Baghdad, the sounds and memories of the horror seared every cell of her body.
We would wait for America.
We studied everything American while we waited.
I read every American magazine I could get a hold of. I saved my money to buy Mad Magazine and Seventeen magazine, listened to American Rock n Roll, hoping every year our “number” would come up.
When I arrived in Los Angeles, I was ready. So were my parents, now fluent (with an accent) in English, their fourth language.
Eventually English replaced their first languages of Arabic and French. They embraced their new country.
Where sexism once held sway, it ceased to make sense. Comments like “ah, next time, inshallah a boy,” when a baby girl was born, began to feel offensive to them.
No longer was sexism part of their culture, and some of the changes were harder for them to accept.
I was wild with freedom in this new country where a girl was free to drive her own life. They worried a lot. It was not easy for them to stretch past what was ingrained from their native Egypt and Iraq, and later India and Japan.
They had made a choice, to go to a country that was “free” and this was part of the package.
“You either grow with your children or you lose them,” my mother said as she struggled out of her very traditional Middle Eastern culture. We grew together.
Fortunately my father and mother supported each other’s growth into a new way of living. They were in the true sense, progressive, and that is what America is about.
When my progressive values are questioned because I don’t think refugees from Islamic lands should be given a carte blanche to immigrate to Western countries, I get frustrated.
I veer from a knee-jerk “politically correct” response. I push back:
To immigrate here, be ready to embrace Western values.
New immigrants, be ready to grow out of sexism, do not even think of bringing in sharia law, and leave your anti-Semitism behind as well. Be ready to acculturate.
Its simple – keep Arabic as your native tongue, and lean into English as your first language. To succeed in America become that, part of the multicultural mix-another delicious flavor in this land called America. A country can be judged on how it values personal freedom.
The “American Dream” cannot be turned into a Middle Eastern nightmare of repression.
I say this as a progressive, as a Middle Eastern/North African Jewish immigrant:
You want to bring in your Jew and women hatred? You want women to be held back, down, and kept from the steering wheel? You want people to be afraid of their shadow? You want to import sharia law?
No. Not here. Stay in the region where that is the norm.
It’s pretty simple, do not think of changing us, be ready to change yourself. Welcome then.
published jan 2016 Times of Israel blogs