7/03/2013

This Land is Your Land, This Land is My Land

An immigrants dreams, realized.
The Statue of Liberty is the one thing that, for me, is the American icon. Every immigrant longs to see that lady, her torch held high, welcoming them. Her inscription reads:

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

~The new Colossus by Emma Lazarus~


 You see this American icon, our statute, our Lady Liberty is begging for those who long for freedom and a chance to create your own destiny to come to her and breathe free. My father took me to the see the Statue of Liberty when I was a small child. I do not remember much about actually seeing her, but I do remember my fathers tears. I remember him telling me that he was happy that I was going to have a life so incredibly different than his. I had no idea what he meant then, but I sure do now. My father lived and died a refugee, his entire life dictated by visa's and embassy documents. America right now is once again going through this debate over immigration. This has been a problem since day one. There has always been backlash against those who arrived 5 seconds later than those already here. This country would be nothing without its vibrant immigrants that went through hell to get here, that toiled and petitioned and gave up their entire lives to come here. So this Independence day let us show some respect for those new Americans in our communities. Let us welcome those huddled masses to our teeming shore and realize that they just want what we already have. If you have never been to a swearing in ceremony for people becoming American citizens, I really suggest you go. I have been to many in my lifetime and every time it brings such emotion. I look out into the crowd of faces hailing from all the corners of our world and each one standing tall, proud, tears flow, hand on heart and almost unable to recite the words that deem them Americans.



I am the daughter of immigrants. First generation. Most of my family does not live in America.  Most of my family lives under occupation and repressive regimes. Most of my family does not have a right to even speak against their rulers, let alone vote them into or out of office.

My birth mothers parents came here from Greece after World War II, seeking what everyone seeks when they come to America: that dream. My father came here to attend university and start a life. He knew the only chance he had at any semblance of a normal life was to come to America. His American dream was cut short for reasons that are an entire other story. Growing up surrounded by immigrants I learned the value of this thing called freedom. I was born here. I was born on a cold winters day, at 5:25 in the evening, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty, in Brooklyn, New York. I tell people that when they tell me to go back where I came from. Go back to Brooklyn? Sure! No problem! B.K. represent! As the daughter of immigrants I struggled my whole life with this duality. I am both fully American and fully Arab. My homeland is and always will be Palestine, but my country is and always will be America. I have had many chances to live in various countries. I have family in about 15 different countries. I could go live with any one of them. I choose to stay here, in this land of dreams.

When you grow up with immigrants, and you watch your loved ones over seas fighting for simple rights you take for granted, you learn the value and the luck of your place of birth. I was born knowing I had the right to vote. I was born knowing I could own land, sell that land, own and operate my own business, get an
education, legally be required to attend school, and that my pursuit of happiness was not a lofty ideal but a given right. I did not have to fight for any of these rights, those before me had already done that. I am ever grateful for their struggles and sacrifices.

Yes, Islam gives me all these rights, but sadly Muslim rulers do not, specially not to a woman. I remember the 4th of July as a kid and the fireworks scared me to death. I also remember my father jumping out of his skin at every boom because it sounded just like the bombs dropped on his home growing up. I remember my father teaching me the song 'This land is your land' and telling me that this country was mine, that I belong here and to never let anyone tell me different. When you are born here and your family for generations back is from here, you tend to take for granted what value that holds.

American Foreign Policy
America is not perfect, not by far. She has many issues, problems and has committed many sins. America was founded on the graves of its indigenous peoples and built on the backs of slaves and I never forget this. I am not happy about many of America's policies and invasions of lands. It is hard to love my country when she drops bombs on my homeland, when missiles and bullets with "Made in America" written on them pierce the flesh of my loved ones. I have the right to complain about America. I have the right to dislike her choices, to be angry with her, to fight against her policies and to keep her in line with the values spelled out in her laws and to fight to keep those laws just and fair. That is a right many take for granted or simply do not even recognize at all. Criticizing America is not unpatriotic, if it was then not one of the founding fathers was patriotic.

For all that I dislike there is so much I do like. I love apple pie. I love New York City. I love our landscapes, beaches and national parks. I love being able to do what I want, when I want and not have some security or secret police follow me around. I love being able to choose for myself what religion to have, what education I want and being able to form and voice my own opinions. I love being able to buy whatever my mind can imagine, at 3am. I love the diversity of America. America was built on diversity. The founding ideals of this country was religious freedom, separation of church and state and openness to all peoples. I love that I can get Cuban, Ethiopian, Middle Eastern, Japanese and Indian food in almost any American city.

I love that the first two countries to establish diplomacy and trade with America were Morocco and
Egypt. Without this support this country would never have been able to build anything or survive those first years as a fledgling nation. I love that there is so much Islamic history right here in America. The state of California is named after the word caliph which means leader in Arabic. I love that Muslims came to this country long before that poor excuse for a navigator Christopher Columbus ever dreamed it possible. I love the fact that for the most part we obey traffic laws in this country. When the light turns red, we stop. When the light turns green, we go. This is unheard of in many other places. I love that we can buy a cup of coffee that is bigger than the human stomach. I love that whatever your opinions, ideals, morals, religion or lifestyle you can find other like minded people to commune with. I love that I can sit in a coffee shop all day and talk mad ish about America and still walk home with next to no fear of being detained. I love that I get go to the Bahamas for less than $50. I love being a consumer. I love voting for my president. I love that America finally has decent animal cruelty laws that give animals right to humane treatment, other countries do not have such laws and it is ugly. I love that, in America, I am able to just be, to just exist. As a Palestinian this something I do not have the right to do in my homeland. I watch my friends and family in Egypt fighting in the streets for basic needs and am so thankful. I watched this program and this Muslim woman born in Kuwait was becoming an American citizen. She was so excited because for the first time in her life she was going to have the right to vote. Islam gave women the right to vote 1400 yrs ago. Muslim men have taken that right away from us, but America gave it back to us.

You can watch this program "Lidia Celebrates America" by clicking here. I highly recommend watching it. It will give you an appreciation for the diversity of this nation of ours and for the struggles people go through to get here. They are not coming here with some covert agenda, they are coming here to survive, to escape persecution, for freedom of religion (or from religion), for opportunities in education and careers unthinkable in the lands they were born in.

I fight against the increasingly Islamophobic, xenophobic trend that this country is going towards. I am not blind to the drones that assassinate people without due process. I am not blind to the evil wars we have fought for no good reason, in which I have lost friends and family on both sides of. I am not blind to the fact that this country, the land of the free, has more people incarcerated than any country on this earth. I am not blind to the fact that as a Muslim, Arab and activist I am subject to search and seizure, arrest and maybe even jail time if I stand up too loudly for what I believe in. I know all of this. Even with all of this I would rather live here, in America, than anywhere else. Maybe I am choosing the devil I know over the devil I only know a little bit, but this is home. When America is right I stand beside her and defend her, and when she is wrong I stand up and fight against it. That is my right and my duty as an American, to be the system of checks and balances.

Despite my deep love for this country, my country, I have never really been accepted here, not fully. I am not a white Christian, there for I do not belong, I am a visitor, I am unwelcome. Yet, my love for this country runs just as strong and maybe even stronger because I know the value of this American dream. I am American by birth and proudly so. I love that my passport does not say 'refugee' on it, as it would if it were any other passport because that is what I would be if it were not for America. Palestinians are always refugees. My father was a refugee and died a refugee. My mothers family were all refugees. I have something they did not have. I have a country. I am a citizen. I belong. My passport, birth certificate, social security card and drivers license all say that I belong here, it is my birth right. I am living the dream my family wishes they could be living. I am fully Palestinian. I am fully Egyptian. I am fully Muslim. I am fully a woman.

I am a damn proud American.

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