This is the story of Rabab Abedalla who came to the United States from Egypt in 2000. I learned so much about my mother’s experiences living in America. I really got a deeper view into her life before me, and how her overall time was spent coming to America and starting a new life. Almost everything she said was surprising to me, considering she had positive experiences for most of her life in America. I was definitely surprised as she was discussing her story about her experience after 9/11. I had no idea she has such a difficult time after this event, and it must have been especially difficult considering she had only lived in America for a little more than a year. She said that she was “stared at as if I was a criminal,” a feeling that nobody should ever experience. It was also shocking how even after she went through this uncomfortable time, she still had a good view on America and her new life. Her attitude towards America is reflected throughout the entire interview, which truly showed me how strong one must be in order to achieve a better life in America, or “The American Dream.”
This interview has definitely changed my definition of “The American Dream.” My idea of “The American Dream” was that coming to America will bring one money, riches, new experiences and opportunities, and an overall better life. “The American Dream” seemed to me that you could support yourself and even gain a lot. However, from my mother’s experiences made me realize that “The American Dream” isn’t only about the money; it is a whole range of different things that make living in America better. Since my mother says “I am happy with my husband and children,” she has achieved what I believe is “The American Dream” because of the way she views her life so positively even when going through troubling experiences, and she continues to strive for even higher goals.
This interview has not only taught me so much about my mother and her morals as an immigrant, but it also showed me how interviews truly show a different side of certain person or group of people. It truly gives one an insight of the other person’s life and reading about it doesn’t always give people a full sense of the interviewee’s life. Sitting face to face and knowing their emotions is a completely different experience from just reading a story. Overall, interviewing a person is a great way of actually sensing their feelings and emotions and the significance of the events they experienced.
What year did you come to this country and how old were you? Did you come alone or with other family members or friends? Did you know anyone who lived in this country?
I came to America in 2000, and I came alone. My husband and my sister in law lived in this country.
What languages did you speak when you first came here?
I spoke Arabic and English.
Was it difficult considering Arabic was your first language at the time?
It wasn’t particularly difficult considering that I learned English when I lived in Egypt. Of course my English wasn’t perfect, which was a bit difficult, but my speech overall was understandable.
Why did you leave your home country? Have you been back to your home country since you’ve moved here?
I left Egypt because I wanted to live with my husband and start a family and a new life. I have went back to my country once.
When and why did you go back that one time? How long were you there?
I went in 2001 for 7 months to visit my family.
What was your first impression of the U.S. after you arrived? Was moving here an easy transition from the place you left?
The United States seemed so different, and almost magical when I first arrived. I was excited to start a new life, but I was definitely worried about how I would interact with others in this new foreign place. It was a pretty easy transition because I am much happier here and I have a completely new and better life.
Is your impression of the U.S. still the same? Why are you happier here?
I would definitely say I still have the same view on America. I am so much happier because I have not only given myself a new and better life, but I am also giving my children better experiences and opportunities.
Looking back on your experience, how would you define “The American Dream?” How easy or hard has it been to achieve that “dream?”
“The American Dream” is usually defined as coming to America and receiving all the riches and happiness, but to me the American dream is living a happy and healthy everyday life in America. I am happy with my children and husband today, so I would say it wasn’t particularly easy or hard to achieve the American dream.
What was difficult about achieving that “dream?” What was easy?
It was easy because my way of life was overall much better, but the difficult part is actually achieving that better life.
Based on all your experiences living in Egypt and America, how would you compare your living situations in both countries?
I was born and raised in Egypt, so it is definitely a big part of who I am, and also my whole family lives there. However, I would have to say I prefer America considering all the endless opportunities my children now have and the amazing life I am currently living with this family I started all here.
What is the most difficult moment you’ve experienced while being in America as an immigrant?
The aftermath of 9/11 was definitely the worst experience I have had living in America. It was tragic to watch on the news how several people were killed during the event, but walking outside was almost traumatizing for me. I was stared at as if I was a criminal because I wear a hijab. It was frightening to see how people judged me and assumed things about me because of my religion and what I believe. It made me start questioning everything because I always believed America is where everyone is accepted no matter their race or beliefs. I came to a realization at one point that judgements will always be made, but I kept my head high and got through this experience. It was extremely difficult, but I also learned a lot from it.
Did it take you a long time to feel comfortable walking outside wearing a hijab?
Yes, several months, actually. But as I said before, even though I was scared and uncomfortable, this experience completely changed my attitude and how I view the world.
Amira Elbagoury '21 (BHSEC Queens)
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