My sister-in-law called one morning. Moe and his wife had their first baby a few days ago. His mother had come from Lebanon to help. We had to go offer our congratulations.
Moe’s apartment is on the second floor. To get to it we had to be buzzed in through an entry door on the first floor. That door opens. We look up at an older woman at the top of the stairs. She sees us and begins wailing! We are taken aback! Had anything dreadful happened, to the baby, to Moe’s wife?
“Finally someone came!” The woman cried, “I made all this moghli (a special dessert offered when babies are born) and no one knocked on our door!”
In the so-called Third World, and at times of life’s passages (births, weddings, deaths etc.) you celebrate the event with all your family, the extended family, friends and all the neighbors. No invitation necessary. You hear of an event like this and you just go! Pronto!
This does not happen often in America. People generally leave you alone to adjust to the event, to get yourself together and to be invited over. For this and many other reasons, immigrants tend to congregate in their ghettos and ethnic neighborhoods. They want to live their lives in America and maintain all their tribal customs and comfort zones. As such, we have Little Chinas and Little Vietnams and Little Every Other Ethnicity all over this nation!
This has happened from the inception of this country. However, immigrants eventually assimilated into that evolving “American Culture.” That’s what I was convinced was the right thing to do from day one. I came here and lived in an “American” neighborhood. My children mixed with “American” kids. I spoke to them in English with a smattering of Arabic. I wanted them to be “Americans.” By immigrating here had I not agreed and sworn to that, after all? I do not take that frivolously.
Many immigrants, who arrived to this land, especially from the seventies on, simply do not want to be like me. Living in their ghettos, with as minimum an exposure to Americana as they can afford, they maintain their ethnic languages, traditions, customs and all else. One of the many reasons for that is the legacy of colonialism that the once colonized nations of the world (mainly Africa, Latin America and the Middle East) had suffered under, and one that they are very angry about. Immigrants from the once colonized nations are basically saying: I’m here but I’m still going to be me! I do not want your Americana, Britannia, Franconia, Germania etc.! The United States, having never been a colonist in those countries, is perceived as the non-occupying imperialist: a meddling country, the self-assigned policeman of the world who has no regards or respect for the non-Western nations of the planet. And the only reason, many believe, as to why they had immigrated to the West in the first place was because of lousy American foreign policy in their nations.
I agree with the anger. I sympathize with the feelings. I am angry at many things, too! However, living in a ghetto is not the solution. Not assimilating, respecting and appreciating American society is simply misguided. I have maintained my pride in my roots, I wear my Palestinian and Arab heritage as a badge of honor, I hold on to the traditions that I am comfortable with while being a very proud American. One definitely does not negate the other. This country has allowed me to be whoever it is that I am. It has also set itself up to be open to critique. It has enshrined that right in its constitution.
These beliefs sometimes put me between a rock and a hard place: I need to and want to defend the United States when in the presence of some of those angry Arab, Arab-American and other immigrants and I also need to defend the Arab World when in the presence of ignorant Americans!