#MoreThanALabel: my story as an Arab American Immigrant

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I am participating in #MoreThanALabel: Immigrant Stories, Simmons College’s online MSW Program’s campaign to promote transcending labels. By participating in this campaign, I will be sharing my story and how I believe we can shatter the stigmas often attributed to immigrant communities.

I sat at the doctor’s office and watched her scream at the receptionist. A woman of a certain age, dressed in designer clothes from head to toe, her shouting was so out of place. 

“But I asked for the other doctor. I don’t want to see this one. He is foreign!”

She finished yelling at the red-faced receptionist, who promised to see what she can do, and came and sat next to me. With my confusing facial features, she probably didn’t know what I was. She addressed me, hoping to find a sympathetic ear.

“I just don’t understand them, those foreign doctors, and if I don’t understand them, how could they understand me?”

I smiled and buried my nose in my book. That Richard Castle sure knows how to write a story!

“I mean, would you see that foreign doctor?”

Putting my book down, I faced her. “As a matter of fact, I would. He’s great. He’s Harvard educated, trained at a top US hospital, and he has been in America longer than I have.”

My declaration took her by surprise. Suddenly, I wasn’t her audience.

“You’re foreign too?”

I have always loved this question. It gives me the chance to play a little game.

“No, I am an American.”

“But you just said—”

“Right. I wasn’t born here.”

“What’s your nationality?”


She rolled her eyes. “I mean what’s your—”


She smiled and lowered her gaze. I was having fun. “Moroccan,” I said with a grin.

“Sorry if I offended you,” she muttered. She dug into her purse. “Chocolate?” she said remorsefully.

“Thank you.” I chewed on the offered Dove piece. It was delicious. The rest of the conversation flowed easily. She confessed to have always wanted to go to Casablanca and I encouraged her to do that. I also told her that I had known the “foreign” doctor for a while and that his wife, also “foreign,” taught me a class in college. By the time I was done, she got up and spoke to the receptionist, a lot more calmly, and was seen, I am guessing, by the same doctor she snubbed ten minutes earlier.

Such occurrences are rare, at least in my experience.

Most natural-born Americans that I have encountered welcome the opportunity to learn about other cultures, either directly by traveling or vicariously by hearing all about them from natives. The recent shift in sentiment, due to discriminating comments made by GOP presidential candidates and the spotlight directed at the migrant crisis in Europe, will shift again, in my opinion. America was built by immigrants, for immigrants, and we will never forget our roots. We pride ourselves in being a mosaic of different cultures, a Heinz 57 of ingredients, if you will. 

When I was approached by Ms. Megan Dottermusch from Simmons College to participate in this blog carnival, based on a piece I wrote on this same website in July of 2013 titled An Immigrant in America, I went through a phase where I didn’t know what to write about. I was humbled to be asked, absolutely, but my experience as a former foreigner has been pleasant, in comparison to most. Born and raised in Morocco, my family had the means to take care of me and my home country had no wars to drive me away, so deciding to live in America after visiting and falling in love with an American was all a matter of serendipity. 

From stories told to me throughout the years, the biggest obstacle that makes life harder for most immigrants is not mastering the English language, and it’s through no fault of their own. Most, if not all, try very hard, everyday, to improve their English, and therefore afford themselves a better life, but tell me this: have you tried learning a second language after a certain age? how hard was it? were you able to speak it flawlessly and without an accent? This is what foreigners face when immigrating, and it is my belief that most of the discrimination they face comes from their language skills, as hard as they may try. Whether they’re treated differently as soon as they open their mouth or they themselves end up being self conscious about their accent or mistakes, their experience ends up being dictated by their mastery of English. A self fulfilling prophecy, for certain.

That being said, I do believe that the best way to fight labels is a life well lived. I believe in assimilation. I believe in respecting the law of the land you live in. I believe in participating in activities in your community, in celebrating holidays, and in trying and trying some more, as hard as life might be in the beginning. If some discriminate against someone with a foreign accent, most will find it lovely, maybe even sexy. I believe that any immigrant who ends up in the US is very fortunate indeed and should make the most out of his or her experience, without having to sacrifice who they are or deny where they came from. It is in our differences that we find our strength, in our disagreements that we find our commonalities. Let us not lose sight of who we are as Americans.

I am proud to wave my red, white and blue flag, proud to live in a land where I can be spiritual without practicing a religion that confines me, and proud to pursue my dreams, which have included going to college, traveling, and writing a novel … in English!

My name is Meena McBride. I am an Arab American, an engineer, a fashionista, an author, a blogger, a world traveler, and a proud immigrant.



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