Iraqi Americans (Not) Acclimating

by Weam Namou

Photo by: Suman Bhattachary

             Photo by: Suman Bhattachary

Today I attended a school meeting with the educators and parents where we discussed, once again, how to encourage Iraqi American parents to get involved in their students’ work and in the school itself. My community has the largest growing Iraqi immigrants. It has even been nicknamed “Little Baghdad” because on each corner there is an Iraqi produce market, butchery, bakery, restaurants, etc. This is great on one hand. The culture resonates very strongly here. However, when the newcomers stay within these boundaries, adding Satellite TVs in order to watch Arab channels all day long, they don’t give themselves the chance to acclimate.

One of the teachers said that she really embraces this ethnic community, especially given that she resides amongst them. “However,” she added, “it feels like this community is like a volleyball game. This team is on this side, and that team is on that side, and often they split apart. They don’t really come together.”

I remembered something my elderly neighbor once said as we chatted over our back fence. Her parents were first generation immigrants from Italy. She said that all immigrants had difficulty acclimating but that she noticed this was more prominent with Iraqis. They really resisted change.

I thought about that and wondered whether this was due to them having immigrated from a country of a different religion. They also had endured much oppression and persecution and for over 30 years war. Their wounds are so deep, it’s not easy to tap into them. They will take decades, maybe even generations, to heal. But isolation is not the answer. And it’s their children who will suffer for it.

As the principal said, “If people don’t know the truth, don’t worry. They will make it up.”

His point was to spread the good news about the school. My point is let’s spread the good news about our culture, our history, our pains and joys. Let’s share ourselves. Because if people don’t know the truth about us, they will make it up.

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