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#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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Quiet No More: Muslims in America should speak up.

Ben Carson finally showed his truly colors. On Meet The Press today, he made the following statement: “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

This comes soon after Donald Trump’s refusal to take issue with a man during a campaign event who called President Obama a Muslim and said Muslims are “a problem in this country.” For the record, President Obama is a Christian. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, CAIR, were swift to criticize Carson’s comments, stating that he was no qualified to be a president.

Now, to be honest with you, as a die-hard Hillary fan, I want these two to keep opening their months and spewing this kind of ignorance, because the more they do, the less likely they are to get elected. Why? Simple. I have faith in the American people. I do not think that we would elect someone who stands against the principles of our Founding Fathers; someone who would spread hate and division among us.

While we’re on the subject of hate against Muslims: here is a critique that I have heard and read often enough: American Muslims, the “good” ones, the moderate ones, do not do enough to condemn the actions of the few bad extremists.

I happen to agree!

We, as a small population, don’t do enough to condemn the responsible parties when something bad happens. I can’t speak for the entire American Muslim population, but I would like to, at least, speculate as to why.

First of all, and this is important, most of us come from a country / culture where criticizing Islam or voicing a political opinion was frowned up, at best, and a way to land you in prison, or killed, at worse. Second and third generation Muslims are taught to be quiet about such issues at an early age, even when they’re born and raised right here in the US, where the First Amendement is alive and well. So, we are hard wired not to “rock the boat.” Even when crimes are committed by extremists, there is perhaps a hesitation to say something that could be misconstrued as a critique against Islam itself, so it’s best to just … shut up. We assume that, as Americans, it is obvious to everyone that we love our country and that our loyalty to the flag of the United States is not up for debate: if something happens that harms our fellow Americans, then we’re just as pissed off about it as all other citizens.

Furthermore, I think that being a minority, and a very small one at that, puts added pressure to stay silent in the face of controversy. It almost feels like, no matter what we say, people’s opinions wouldn’t change anyway: if someone hates Muslims, that won’t change, and if someone doesn’t, that won’t change either. 

Personally, I don’t think it’s necessary to feel that way; if anything, I think that other Americans are ready to hear from the Muslim American population. Perhaps for reassurance that our loyalty to the US is intact. Perhaps to feel a sense of solidarity in the face of tragedy. Whatever the reason, I think that the outcry against our collective silence is justified, and that it is time to speak up, not only against extremists, but also against politicians who use us as pawns in their political schemes. 

I know I will.

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