It took my parents a while to understand the irony behind the idiom “the grass is always greener on the other side”. Their honeymoon in January of 1996 was the separation from all that they knew as they departed to the US: the land that stretched from sea to shining sea.
In their new country, there was a ladder that they could climb up – they’d be pushed down, passed up and even knocked off of it – but nonetheless, the ladder would always be there. Syria, their home country, afforded them little chance to seek opportunity.
A year later, my parents welcomed their first child, my older sister, to their makeshift apartment – a basement in Queens, New York City, where remnants of the crack cocaine epidemic still lingered on the doorsteps of next-door neighbours. Recently, they confessed to me that the first year they celebrated the holidays in the US, my father came home from his clinical rounds and slumped on the couch with my mother, and they both cried, their hearts yearning for family and familiarity.
Nonetheless, they continued to pave a path for themselves.
Two years after their move to the new land, I entered this world. My home, a two-bedroom apartment with a patio. I was welcomed into a family where my father was a medical resident, rather than a mere intern, and to an era where my mother knew English.
My parents constantly created opportunity from little. Oftentimes, the success of immigrants is highlighted while their past is forgotten. The first 10 years of my parents’ lives in America were characterised by cross-country moves to chase educational opportunities, applications to dozens of programmes, and dozens of rejections due exclusively to their non-citizen status.
Fast-forward to 2015 when my parents were citizens, our house was comfortably large, and my father was fulfilling his dream of saving lives in his own clinic. On 10 December of that year my hands were shaking and my voice was quivering as I read over and over that I had been accepted to Harvard University. To my immigrant family, it was more than four years of education – it was a testimony that leaving all that they had once known was all worth it, that it was truly paying off, that the American Dream was not an illusion they fell for.
I knew the importance of politics in this nation, and understood how thankful my parents were to be granted the opportunity to live here.
This past year I spent countless hours following too intently the presidential campaign, knowing the significance that this election could have on millions of people. But still I did not take Donald Trump’s outlandish statements to be serious.
In an attempt to minimise any dwelling fear I had in my head, I tried to convince myself that it was all an act. I reminded myself that our elected officials would stand against un-American ideals in the off chance that these absurd ideas were even proposed, because that is what their job constitutes. But on 8 November, election night crept on, and the future began to feel unknown. And by the end of the night, hope for what the future held was no longer certain. But nonetheless, a glimpse of it could still be found.
Then suddenly, that glimmer of hope seemed gone. Last week, 27 January of the new year marked the day that this great country, which was built by immigrants upon immigrants, no longer wanted to tolerate the basic freedoms that humans were entitled to. The executive orders signed that day by the new president symbolised an abuse of power and a negligence of humanity.
Currently, I have several cousins scattered across Europe because they were forced to flee Syria. They are about the same age as my parents were when they first arrived to the US. But today, they are not welcome. They are painted as hostile foreigners. Today, America has chosen to push them away, to force upon them arduous days clouded by fear and the uncertainty of where they will find their next home.
I love this country too much to idly stand by as inhumane actions are being taken and justified by some in this nation. It would be unfair to those in history who have suffered, the millions of Syrian voices unheard, to the millions of Jews denied visas, to the millions separated by the German wall, if we were to remain quiet as injustices take place.
Bushra Hamid is a freshman at Harvard University, due to graduate in 2020.
Many thanks to Leeds Trinity University for help in sourcing this blog.