Tag Archives: Islam

#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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The Bicycle and The Muslim Girl

The film Wadjda, directed by the Saudi female director Haifaa Al-Mansour, had a simple premise: it’s the story of an eleven year old Saudi girl who wants a green bicycle. It couldn’t get any simpler than that. Yet, this film moved me like no other ever had, and the reason was simple: I could relate.

I, too, grew up in a Muslim country. I, too, wanted a bicycle my entire life. Now in my thirties, I am deeply ashamed of the fact that I don’t know how to ride a bicycle, and wonder how many other adults in America can relate. I had a tricycle when I was a small child, the kind that you ride with your feet touching the ground. Once ready to upgrade into a big-girl two-wheel version, I was given excuses instead of answers: what do you need it for? Walking is better for you anyway. Here is a girly doll instead, as tall as you, look how pretty! I was never given the reason as to why I couldn’t have a bicycle.

One day, when I was in high school, I did an informal survey among my classmates to see how many of them knew how to ride a bicycle: out of thirty three girls, only two knew how! One who had lost her dad (read: no male authority figure) at a young age, and one whose mother was European (read: open minded). The rest of us would have been clueless had we found ourselves in a dangerous situation and our only means of getting away was a bicycle. Granted, I am referring to a scene from a movie I have seen, but still, what if?

I think riding a bike – an adult size one – is a skill that everyone should have by the time they’re an adult, not only because of the possibility of the scenario above actually happening, but for the freedom that I imagine only a bicycle could offer, and of course for the health benefits. I get so jealous when I see someone riding a bike. I see it as a privilege that most people take for granted, while billions of Muslim girls around the world have to fight – and lose for the most part – to get a bike.

You’re probably wondering why. Why are these Muslim girls not allowed to ride bicycles? Here is the story that I was told later by female friends: the myth in some Muslim countries is that riding a bike will break the hymen. The precious virginity would be lost. The girl would be labeled impure. If you know anything about Muslim cultures, then you know how precious virginity is to these girls’ male relatives.

It is true? Does riding a bicycle break the hymen? No, of course not! Some of the men in these Muslim countries just don’t want us to have any freedom. Riding a bicycle would mean freedom; it would mean girl meets world. It would mean that her innocent eyes would get to see what’s happening beyond the walls of her golden cage. It would mean mixing with men. And who knows what else the girl will ask for when she grows up: cigarettes, alcohol, birth control pills? The risks are simply too high for some of these men to take.

I am being sarcastic. Well, sort of.

In recent years, I have asked my father about not having a bicycle growing up. I wanted to know his reasons for denying me something that’s so basic when he gave me so much. He promised that he doesn’t remember anything about it. My father had to raise a lot of children and was the sole bread winner, so I do believe that he didn’t mean to deprive me of that privilege. He was also into cycling; we’re talking high tech bikes, proper gear and many competitions, and he was an orphan who was raised by an open-minded European Catholic man, so I chose to believe that it was an unfortunate oversight. I did forgive him. He’s an amazing father, but I do tease him about it every chance I get.

Recently, a friend of mine visited me at home and saw that I have a bicycle. She also saw a helmet and some elbow and knee pads sitting right by it. A couple of days later, she offered to teach me how to ride, stating that her daughter would love to learn with someone else.

Her daughter is ten years old.

I politely declined.

But make no mistake: I will learn how to ride a bicycle if it’s the last thing I do. I have tried the cigarettes, alcohol and birth control pills already.

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Fleeing the Casbah

      Blisters were forming on her heels from the tight shoes. Droplets of sweat covered her forehead as she ran faster and faster through the narrow streets of her neighborhood. It was after midnight when she left home, and as she made it farther and farther away, a sense of calm settled over her.

      Meriem was free. At last.

      It was one of those starry nights that could only be witnessed in Casablanca. The Atlantic Ocean roared with pride and its balmy June breeze caressed Meriem’s cheeks as she made her way through the dirty pavement of the slum, her small body moving gracefully, her long dark hair flowing carelessly.

     The teenager continued running until she reached an abandoned shack and decided to rest a bit. He hadn’t woken up when she opened the old door to leave, and chances are he wouldn’t figure out she was missing until morning. I’ll be far away by then, she reasoned cautiously.

      In her coat pocket rested a crumpled candy bar, Mars, her favorite. Happy Birthday, thought the sixteen year old to herself. She opened the treat and chewed on it, slowly, fully aware of the beating her face had taken earlier that evening.  He came home drunk and put his full force behind a punch that her cheeks succumbed to. Where is dinner, you whore? He questioned before throwing the second punch. She spit a tooth out and got up to make dinner. Beans and rice, again.

      Meriem’s life was a series of nightmares that she could never wake up from.

      She could have made dinner to avoid the commotion. She could have done her best to avoid rattling him, to avoid getting what was left of her body beaten. She could have gone with the flow and done what he expected of her as usual.

      But not today. She’d finally had enough.

      She got up after finishing her candy bar and looked cautiously outside the abandoned shack. Not a sound. Not a soul. An old light flickered at the corner of the dilapidated street, where one old shack after another lined up in a semblance of an order, housing large families who had more will to live than an actual life.

      Poverty reigned in her neighborhood.

      As she left her hiding place, the zing from the chocolate bar kicked in. She removed her tight shoes and continued running in the opposite direction from her home, never-mind the dirt and shards of broken glass that dug into her flesh. Pain? What’s pain? How can you know pain if you don’t know joy? she often wondered. He was supposed to be my joy, my escape from the pain. Her mind wandered as she continued her brave escape.

     They had met at a movie theater. She was fourteen and he was thirty, an entrepreneur, he gave her to believe. He took her out to dinner at a restaurant she’d only heard about, in an actual building with running water and working electricity, on the other side of town. Her long hair was braided and as she chewed her food, he played with her braid. He told her about his many travels and expanding wealth and how all he needed was a good girl to marry. She didn’t mind the age difference; everyone is doing it, she reasoned. She didn’t mind the idea of marrying a rich man and getting out of Shackville.

      It’s what happened after dinner that she minded. Very much.

      Meriem’s heart sank as she remembered the scene. His yanking her braid. A car door opening. His genitals violating her innocent body. Blood and semen and tears tainting the beautiful pale rose dress she’d borrowed for the occasion. Screams. Moans. More tears. Slaps and punches and kicks. A mix of feelings she didn’t know what to make of.

      She stopped to catch her breath. The evil bastard, she thought.

      And as if being victimized by him wasn’t enough, it wasn’t even the worst of it.

      The police caught up with him and arrested him. Her family, full of shame but too proud to let him get away with it, pressed charges. A court date was set a year later, and people gathered to watch the drama unfold. She sat quietly as she expected the monster to be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, until his lawyer opened his mouth and raped her. One more time.

      The legal lingo was a blur this much time later. The headlines danced vaguely in her memory. Moroccan penal code. Rapist marries victim to avoid prison. A judge who went along with it all. No, this can’t be happening to me, she thought in court as she shook her head, her hand covering her mouth, suppressing a scream. No, throw him in prison, don’t ask him to marry me, he is evil. The decision was made for her. The judge was convinced by the slick attorney. The gavel hit the sounding block and her own life sentence began.

      She was to marry her rapist and he was to avoid prison altogether.

      She fell to the ground as she choked on her tears. The memory was too much still, even a year later.

      No white dress for her wedding. No happy ululations from her friends. No roasted chickens or almond stuffed dates with goat milk. Her wedding looked like a funeral. The men blamed her for making him rape her and the women mourned the pain of an unjust sentence awaiting her.

      Her life was over.

      As her breath steadied and her heart rate slowed, she continued her self-imposed marathon in the dark streets of Shackville, fighting the tears that clouded her big brown eyes in spite of her. Soon she found herself in the leafy calm of wealthy homes, in the Casablanca she only dreamed about. She often wondered why poor neighborhoods in her city were so close to rich ones; why was it that from the backyards of the penniless they glimpsed a constant reminder of the life they were missing out on. Her tiny feet bled as the rocks and gravel dug at them, but she didn’t care. She was free. She no longer had to succumb to the life of servitude and humiliation she had been sentenced to.

      The past year was a daily reminder of her misfortune. The monster she’d married had no money; in fact, he was a resident of the same slum she lived in with her parents and five siblings. He’d been watching her for a while and cooked up his little plan after a friend of his did the same thing to another girl. The monster moved her into his lowly abode and proceeded to rape her, beat her, insult her and blame her for his lack of success in life. No amount of pleading helped her case as he rejoiced in her sorrow. On the day of her sixteenth birthday, she was to put her plan into action.

      So far, it was working.

      Meriem ran past the local souk and didn’t even flinch at the smell of day-old sardines. She headed toward the neighboring villas, passing the walls of the old Casbah, the walls that kept the old medina and its destitute residents away from the rest of Casablanca. As she made it past a few villas, her sense of calm returned and she felt freedom welcoming her. Palm trees lined the streets in perfect order and the smell of freshly cut grass permeated the air. No destiny from here on could be worse than the one she had escaped, she told herself. As she stooped to take a rest, sitting on a rock behind the walls of a fancy residence, she fantasized about what her life could become, while playing with a rip in her old jeans. Maybe joy was not just a dream after all; the folks in neighboring villas could certainly attest to that. Maybe her slice of Happy Pie was still awaiting her. Maybe …

      “MERIEM … MERIEM!” she heard him bark.

      It was him. Definitely him. And he was on her trail.

      She got up and continued running.

. . .

      She stood in her dorm room looking out of the small window. Lake Erie caressed the shore gently and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame sparkled like a rare jewel in this clear-skied autumn day. Carefully examining her brand new Levis and clean Converse, she couldn’t believe her luck. A college student at last! And in the United States of all places! And to think that just four years ago, things were so different …

     Four years ago to the day, she was running in the narrow streets of the slum of her childhood, fleeing her rapist-turned-husband. As he closed the gap, Meriem ran faster and faster, taking shelter in the backyard of a villa where the gate had been left ajar. Quietly, she crept up to the front door and knocked, and the owner, a retired journalist, let her in and listened to her story, while she took turns crying and talking and crying some more. He insisted she stay with him and his wife, and within weeks, the foreign media were aware of her condition.

      And look at her now! A high school diploma that she fought so hard to get, a long list of supporters around the world who cheered her on, and a scholarship to an American university thanks to years of hard work, English classes and perfect grades.

      Meriem met his eyes as soon as she entered the cafeteria. Andrew, thick blond hair and dimples, had already interviewed her for the school paper and taken an interest in her story. He said hello to her and she went and sat next to him, feeling her blood rise to her cheeks with lightning speed. Their conversation flowed naturally, as usual.

      “You never told me,” he asked, “what happened to … him?” a bit more hesitantly.

      She didn’t want to think about him. She swallowed hard and answered.

     “He died. He ended up in prison and was beaten to death.”

      “I can’t say I am sorry,” Andrew countered. He had such honesty about him, such ease. Meriem felt safe by his side. He made her want to forget about her past, about the pain and suffering.

      “I got you something,” he declared, pulling a couple of Mars bars from his pocket. “Happy Birthday, Meriem,” he said cheerfully.

      Eyes misty, she took one of the chocolate bars in her hand and smiled. “Thank you, Andrew; you remembered!”

      “Of course I did. You are all I think about.” His dark blue eyes spoke a universal language. “Can I take you out to dinner to celebrate? Cleveland is even more beautiful at night.”

      She leaned in and gently kissed his cheek, her long dark hair brushing against his arm. “I thought you’d never ask.”

      They walked out of the cafeteria hand in hand, her heart dancing, her mind dreaming of a white dress and almond stuffed dates.

In Memory Of Amina Filali, who left our world way too soon.

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An Immigrant In America

There is so much talk about immigrants lately, their rights or lack thereof, their impact on society, their contribution to the economy, and while all of this talk is coming from various sources, the one source that is most concerned is remaining relatively quiet.

That source being the immigrants themselves.

No, this is not a piece about our borders with our southern neighbors, nor is it about the struggle of illegal immigrants, whether they came here as children or adults. This is simply a piece about what is it to be an immigrant living in the United States.

You see, I wasn’t born in America. I am one of many lucky citizens who were naturalized and became Americans, by choice. I didn’t have a need to immigrate, my country of birth was not at war, and I didn’t grow up poor. Deciding to become an American was a matter of conviction; it’s as simple as that.

There are many facets to immigrants in this country. We are not a “one-size-fits-all” group, we don’t all have an accent, we don’t all look ethnic and we don’t all congregate strictly with people of similar backgrounds. Some of us do not have friends from our home countries, either by choice or by chance. Some of us were lucky enough to learn English at a young age and unless we tell you we’re immigrants, you would never know. Some of us have very dark skin and others very light and most are of one of the many shades in between, and not all of us are exotic looking, though we’d certainly like to think so.

It’s important to understand the many reasons why people immigrate: some fall in love with an American, marry him or her and end up staying. Others are running away from one of many problems, in most cases poverty or war. America is a dream destination for anyone who feels as though their home country hasn’t offered them an opportunity to thrive professionally and personally. Think about it: why would anyone from, say, Mexico, leave home and family behind and risk their life and freedom to immigrate to America? The answer is simple: they’re taking a chance at a better life. Many North Africans, for example, cross the Mediterranean sea in small unsafe boats with the hope of making it to Europe. Many die from sever weather, drowning or suffocation (the smugglers sometimes stuff them in boxes or big suitcases), and very few of them make it to the other side and are able to run away before getting caught and deported, and to all, the financial cost alone (from paying the smugglers) drives the families back home to go bankrupt, but many still attempt it, every day. Again, the cause is desperation. Those who are able to either cross the Mexican-American border or the Mediterranean sea will live the life of a fugitive, for all intents and purposes, and work menial jobs, happy to make a few bucks and to feel useful, perhaps even normal. Still, their situation will never be, or feel, ideal; it is only a little better than the situation they ran away from to begin with. Life for them will be tough, perhaps indefinitely.

The other reason to immigrate for some might surprise you: social persecution. A very simple example is for you to imagine being Muslim and gay. I think you get the picture. A day in the shoes of one of many gay Muslims will make you thank your lucky stars … and stripes. A related story will follow in a future blog.

My story is not a sad one. My journey as an immigrant started when I was a teenager. I came to the Midwest as a tourist and met an American man I ended up falling in love with and marrying. That juicy story is for another time.

I ended up living in the U.S. even though I had no intention to when I first visited. What I am sure helped me assimilate easily into the American society are many factors, three being at the very top: I came to the U.S. legally, I was young and I was fluent in English.

Many years later, I still believe those three factors made a world of difference in my experience as an immigrant. Throughout my years in our beautiful country, I have heard and read countless stories from others who spent many more years than me in the U.S. but were unable to assimilate as easily as I have, either because of their illegal status or poor language skills or any one of a myriad of reasons, and I have always been very sympathetic to their suffering, because even though my experience had been easier, being an immigrant will always be a bit of a challenge.

How come, you ask. Well, for starters, homesickness never leaves you. It doesn’t matter how good of a life you’ve made for yourself. It doesn’t matter how much love you have for your new adopted family of friends in your new adopted country. The fact of the matter is, your roots are elsewhere. Please, do not confuse homesickness with loyalty. I live and breath red white and blue. My loyalty to the American flag and what it represents is robust. Homesickness is simply the longing to the things – and mostly, the people – that you left behind. It’s the perfect portrayal of “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”. The ironic thing to me is, when I do visit my home country, my homesickness is even greater; as soon as I hug my parents and the rest of my family, I start daydreaming about my return to America and how much I miss home.

Home … what a concept.

Homesickness is at an all-time high on holidays. No matter how surrounded with friends you are all year long, your friends will most likely be with their families on holidays, which is their absolute right and privilege. In my early years as an immigrant, I used to accept all invitations on holidays. I remember hopping from one’s friend’s parents’ house to the other on one particular Thanksgiving, which was stupid and exhausting. I stopped doing that sometime ago; I eventually stopped accepting holiday invitations all together, not just because I was exhausted from the hopping, but because one of two things ended up happening: I would feel like a third wheel, not because anyone made me feel that way, but simply because I was reminded of my own family and how we gathered on holidays, or, the host family, my friend included, would get into an argument or a fight or an alcohol induced airing-of-dirty-laundry match, which usually resulted in my friend being embarrassed, as anyone would be in that situation. Instead of putting myself and my friends through any of this, I started planning something fun for myself on holidays, usually at home, alone, and usually including food and movies, and a spoonful of homesickness, whether I wanted it or not.

The other thing about being an immigrant that I’ve noticed about myself is that I hate moving. I am not just talking about the logistics of moving, which most people dread; I am talking about moving after I have put down roots somewhere. Again, it has to do with the notion of leaving home and immigrating and getting used to a specific scenery and specific neighbors and having to do that all over again. Aside from moving, I hate change in general, sometimes to extremes. For example, my neighbor moved the location of our shared recycling bin and I almost lost it over the incident, then had to remind myself that it was a garbage can and that getting attached to its location was a little … crazy. From the way my neighbor shook his head, that was most likely what he was thinking too, but, hey, some of us are particular about the location of their garbage cans!!! Plus, had you dealt with my neighbor for as long as I have, you’d understand.

Now that the drawbacks of immigration are out of the way, I am delighted to talk about the many advantages of being an American and living in America, from an immigrant’s standpoint. I have to start by saying that the national anthem moves me like no other song does; it was one of the first songs that I learned by heart when I first settled in my new country. It’s not just the song, but what it represents, along with the flag and the constitution and the many rights and liberties.

Another thing that I appreciate about living in America might take you by surprise. Unlike my many friends who were born and grew up here, I find government services to be very efficient. Trust me when I tell you that you do not know what snail mail really is. Try living in any third world or developing country and you will understand what that expression really means. I don’t complain about the lines at the BMV because, at least here in the U.S., I don’t have to bribe anyone just to get a piece of paper that I am entitled to. I appreciate knowing that the FDA will do its very best to ensure that everything that goes into my mouth, whether it’s food or medication, has been tested and approved. I never complain about traffic since most citizens know how to follow the law and don’t drive like maniacs, as is the case in many other countries around the world, and public transportation in my opinion is fairly punctual, all things considered. I also appreciate knowing that when things do go wrong, I can call or write to complain and voice my opinion. Again, it’s a matter of comparison. You don’t really know how good you have it until you’ve tried the alternative. Things are not perfect, but believe me, things are pretty good here in America in comparison to most other countries.

What else do I love about being an American? I love the freedom of being exactly who I am and not having to apologize for it, the right to free speech, the right to have my day in court if I ever need one (and I hope I never do), the privilege of voting, the right to get a college degree no matter who your parents are or the number of digits in your bank account’s balance. I absolutely love the contrast that I see in the many couples that I know, how a fiery red-headed republican Catholic from Arkansas can marry a laid back Jewish democrat from New York, and how you can have Canadian bacon for breakfast, Mexican tacos for lunch and Polish pierogies for dinner with your Irish grandparents. This is the only place on earth where you can be German, Black, British, Chinese with a hint of Indian, and no one would bat an eye. You can name your dog after your aunt and your daughter after your favorite fruit and people will think it’s cute. You can be gay and proud and find many allies and supporters. Being different in America is celebrated, not frowned upon. Being an American woman from a Muslim background myself, I especially love the fact that no one will ever force me to dress a certain way, practice a religion or marry my cousin. I feel peace knowing that if I call the police, the fire department or the emergency services, they will actually show up, and that if someone hurts me, abuses me or steals from me, justice will be done. In America, you can dream as big as you want, and have the audacity to believe that you will live those dreams; buying a house, traveling the world, making money in an honest way: it is all within your reach. Being an American means that we made it through slavery, civil war and financial crises, and were still able to achieve greatness, land on the moon, invent the light bulb and revolutionize the automobile. Our work ethic is unparalleled and we come together like no other nation does, in a joyful event and a crisis alike. Americans donate and volunteer more than any other nation on earth, and our generosity is world renowned.

What I love most about being an American and living in America are my friends, the ones who cheer for me when I make it through a difficult time; the ones who bring me orange juice and chicken soup and wipe off my runny nose when I have a cold and do my laundry when I break a leg; the neighbors who watch my dog and pick up my mail when I am on vacation and bring me red tomatoes from their garden and cherry pie from their oven, just because; the friends that I can disagree with on a number of issues and still be friends with the next day, with no hard feelings. America, to me, is the people, the cheerleaders, the trailblazers, the dreamers, the unique individuals, the movers and shakers, the caring loving souls you cross paths with; that is the strongest weapon we have in our arsenal as Americans.

I don’t know about you, but this is a great place to call home, and there is certainly enough room for all of us, natural-born and naturalized. Next time you see that neighbor of yours, the one from that far away country, don’t worry about his or her immigration status, just smile, say hello, and get to know him or her. You’d be surprised to find out that you both waive your American flag proudly, drive a Chevy, play baseball, eat hot dogs and apple pie, and occasionally miss home … wherever that might be.

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