From an Immigrant’s Eyes

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By Parastoo Seddiqi

Where do we belong?

Afghanistan? Where my sisters and I were born, though war and sexism made my family leave?

Iran? Where my family moved when I was just 5 years old, where we had to pay to go to school, even for the elementary level? Where Afghan girls would get attacked by Iranian boys, and the local authorities turned a blind, indifferent eye and did nothing? Where everyone was looking down on us because we were Afghan, where we had to hide where we were from so we did not get teased or beaten up by Iranian kids?

After 14 years of living in Iran and suffering from racism, we moved.

To America, where my family finally had the opportunity to settle down; where we felt safe and peaceful, and could enjoy freedom.

We started our lives from zero. It wasn’t easy at all — especially learning the language. We knew we would reach our goals if we tried hard enough. We knew that opportunities here are open to everyone. We heard, “America is the land of opportunity.” We learned English well enough to start school, find jobs, make friends, and get to know the new culture. After three years, we finally felt like we fit in. We started feeling more comfortable, more like America was our home.

Now, after President Obama, we feel lost; we are worried about our future. Will we still have the same opportunities as everyone else?

It’s very hard to try our best but feel like we will never reach our goals just because we weren’t born in United States of America, just because we were born into a Muslim family, or just because we are women.

Probably we could be in a better situation if we were Trump’s beloved.

This is not fair.

I am sure that this is not only my story. I am going to be the ears and voice for immigrants and refugees, sharing their voices with our community.

Three years ago I came to America. I have never felt unsafe — until a month ago. I was sure that the way I was feeling was not just about me. The events of the last few weeks, and since the election in November, helped me to decide to seek out students like myself, to be a set of ears to listen and to share their concerns with the SMCC community.

On February 1, I sat with Rosemarie DeAngelis’ English as a Second Language class on the South Portland Campus to listen to the students’ concerns and struggles. The class was full of people who had come to America to find freedom, peace, and education. I was a student in the class a year ago, so it brought back many memories.

As the class got settled, Professor DeAngelis helped to get everyone comfortable and ready to speak. She explained that no one needed to use their name, and said that this was a chance to say how they felt now that there was a new president and government in office. The students seemed relaxed, and trusted that the atmosphere and situation would be safe and respectful.

Most of them came here hoping they would be able to raise their children in a peaceful environment, but now they don’t feel safe. Under President Obama, most of them said they were comfortable, that they felt welcomed and felt that Americans were happy they were here. They moved freely in the city, on the bus, at work, at school, as well as in making friends and meeting new people. Since November, many said, things were different.

“I’m afraid to tell people where I’m from when they ask,” said a young student from Iraq.

A young Muslim woman, who wore a beautiful cover on her head, said, “I don’t feel safe when I go out of my house.”

A young man from Iraq likened living in America to being over at a friend’s house when “their mother doesn’t want me there.”

Another young male student, who takes care of older people, said, “I work for a man who voted for Trump, and he told me, ‘I am so sorry for all this, I had no idea he will be like this.’”

I felt their feelings. I felt how unsure they were about tomorrow. I saw fear on their faces. And if they felt the same way I was feeling, I couldn’t help but wonder — what is happening to our community?

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