“Opportunity,” my father answered. “Opportunity is why I decided to come to this country.”
Ever since his first year of high school, my father fantasized about attending college in the United States. “I would dream about it,” he told me. “And I would go to sleep every night praying for my dream to come true.”
My father never envisioned studying, living and raising a family here in the United States. Growing up as the eldest in a family of 10 siblings, three brothers and seven sisters, my father believed that it was selfish of him to impart upon his parents sole support of the household. Furthermore, his friends laughed at his ambition, thereby rendering him to states of confusion and insecurity. In the midst of his teenage years, my father’s family suffered from severe economic difficulties. My grandfather, who worked from dawn until dusk seven days a week, was struggling to make ends meet. A few years later, the family was traumatized by the sudden death of my father’s two youngest brothers, ages 1 and 2. As if that wasn’t enough for the family, my father’s sister later suffered a stroke and passed away, mildly due to the inadequacy of medical treatment overseas. It was these experiences of emotional instability and economic uncertainty that compelled my father to pursue a life outside of his home country. In light of his friends’ skepticism and his parents’ unwillingness to see their son leave, my father knew that it would be best for him and his family to study, live and raise his children in another country. Such an opportunity would allow my father to support his family back home and escape the memories of his childhood. It took a whole year for my father’s family to accept his wishes, and another year before my father received acceptances from various institutions in the Soviet Union, East Germany and numerous countries in the Middle East.
“I wasn’t happy. I knew that studying there wouldn’t have been any different,” he told me as we drove back to campus.
My father was looking for colleges that offered introductory courses in English as a second language, as well as an institution that would successfully shape his future. He knew that he could only find such hope in the same country that he dreamed about during those long precarious nights—the same country that he saw through the television set and heard about through the radio. After a long wait and several prayers, my father received an admission letter from Southeastern Oklahoma State University, where he would study English for two years before transferring to the University of Mississippi to study architecture.
Unfortunately, my father arrived to the United States during the Iran-Contra affair and, despite not having any association with the region, received a bitter welcome by the community merely because he didn’t speak English. “The feeling that I had to defend myself all the time and that I was perceived guilty simply because of my accent or name had its toll on me,” my father told me. Not only was my father harassed throughout his college career, but he was often robbed, deceived and misled by the people whom he trusted the most. He supported himself by attaining a part-time job at the campus cafeteria in-between classes, at a local Burger King after classes and at an off-campus diner late in the evenings. He knew that in order to live the American dream, he would have to work harder than anyone else. In the end, the innumerable moments of anxiety, the sleepless nights and the unforgettable adversities that my father experienced were worth it. When he had saved up enough money, my father transferred to Ole Miss to begin studying engineering. He went on to obtain his engineering degree from N.C. A&T State University, settled in Greensboro, N.C., launched two businesses and pursued a second career in real estate.
“I came to this country with a mission to succeed. I learned not to take anything for granted, to be receptive of others and not to be judgmental,” he said, remembering his time in Oklahoma. “I learned that this country—regardless of what I experienced early on—has a great social system based on equality and dignity, and a great economic system that allows for individuals to succeed regardless of their circumstances.” As my father was telling me his story, I saw his eyes fill with tears.
Though I first heard of my father’s life experiences days ago, I was reminded of what he told me after hearing a quote from Obama’s inaugural address: “Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.”
No matter what political ideology one adheres to, there’s no denying that there are thousands of individuals, like my father, longing for the freedoms of our country, that are denied opportunity on a regular basis. And until this opportunity is granted to all individuals who rightfully and lawfully seek entry into the United States, “Our journey is not complete.”
Mousa Alshanteer is a Trinity freshman. His column runs every other Thursday. You can follow Mousa on Twitter @mousaalshanteer.