14 Years in the US
14 years ago today, I started my new life in America. I still remember that when I landed at Chicago O’Hare airport. I met the most racist immigration officer. He dropped the F bomb as soon as he realized that I was not a US citizen, and that it would take him a few minutes longer to process my entry into the US. I kept my calm. Knowing I couldn’t afford to upset him, I forced a fake smile. That was my first interaction, a painful thought that still crosses my mind sometimes. Maybe he saw me as a different person, maybe I wasn't assimilated enough, or maybe I was just extra work for him. It left me salty but as soon as I found Qasim, who was waiting at arrivals to pick me up with a bouquet of white roses, I forgot everything.
We spent the next few days exploring Chicago. For a new bride who was to start her life in an alien land, this was an experience in itself. In those first few days, you remember the smell of that new house you moved into. You remember how the water tastes a little bit differently. You remember where you went to eat in the first few weeks. Since I had come to Chicago from London, I felt the sun shone brighter, and the roads were unnecessarily wide. While I was trying to get used to the long distances, the cherry blossoms outside our house caught my attention and I fell in love with Chicago’s spring instantaneously. And later, fell in love with the entire country as I made my own path towards becoming an American citizen.
When I came to America, I thought I knew everything because of the books I’d read, the movies I’d watched, and the news I used to hear. It wasn't until after spending a good few years that I understood American culture in a more intimate way. The time I spent in this country has been incredible. Of course there have been ups and downs in everything you do and anywhere you live. But the last 14 years have given me lifelong friends and unforgettable memories. I am grateful to people who opened their homes for us, shared their family recipes, looked after my children, and entrusted their children with me. Without knowing it, I became an advocate of my faith and my culture. I’ve volunteered at shelter homes and soup kitchens, took my kids to the tree planting activities, and visited countless museums. I remember being stopped at the grocery stores because someone had a question about my headscarf. I spent hours at the public libraries holding talks about Islam and women’s and minorities’ rights. I spoke at universities and wrote for local and national news outlets. Eventually, those discussions became stepping stones for Equal Entrance. This is how I, a Muslim woman assimilated in American culture, by infusing my culture in a new alien land, and made it home. Without compromising my values and my identity, I became an American in my own way. That salty experience upon my arrival still disturbs me but I take solace in the fact that the majority of Americans are open minded, welcoming, and sweet people.
Thank you to everyone who helped along the way. Whether we are intouch or not, you are a part of this story, and you will always be in my heart for the next 14 years, and beyond.