In my first column of this new academic year, I wish all members of the Duke family a rewarding and successful school year. May we all have a blessed one.
Last week, the Antepli family celebrated its tenth anniversary of immigrating to the United States. We wandered around in many different parts of the world, considering many options, before arriving in the U.S. with the intention of adopting this country as our new homeland. Almost exactly ten years ago, I landed in New York at John F. Kennedy International Airport. I arrived first and alone with $600 in my pocket as an already-broke graduate student. My then-pregnant wife and two-year-old daughter joined me four months later in Harford, Conn. where I studied to earn graduate degrees in Islamic studies and trained to be a qualified Muslim Chaplain at Harford Seminary. That small Protestant seminary and its tiny campus were a home, school and workplace for my family and me for five years.
It has been an incredibly rewarding and humbling ten years for the Anteplis. Only a decade later, that broke graduate student and his family have not only established themselves successfully and put their roots in this beautiful country, but more importantly, we feel more at home here in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world.
Despite troubling post-911 realities that often make life very unpleasant for Muslims living in the U.S. whether they are three or 103 years old, despite the rise of unwelcoming and discomforting voices of exclusion and deeply puzzling Islamophobia, every member of the Antepli family feels American without doubts, hesitations or confusion.
By no means did any of us force ourselves to feel that way. We arrived at this emotional stage even after only living here for ten years. My wife is considering working as a nurse at a Veterans’ Affairs Hospital and serving our veterans; my 12-year-old daughter talks about American history as passionately as if her ancestors were the first tribe to arrive here 10,000 years ago, and my nine-year-old son is now all set—at least in his mind—to be a pilot for the U.S. Air Force. My wife and I are truly and delightfully amazed by how this happened in such a natural and organic way and in such a short period of time.
There are incredibly powerful and important stories to be told, both to all fellow Americans and to the rest of the world, as we continue to discuss and struggle with the issue of immigration. Our successful immigration story is far from unique in America. Numerous strangers have come to this country in the past, but this experience itself is incredibly unique, precious and rare, globally speaking.
Both my wife and I have hundreds of relatives who have lived in various parts of Europe for five or six decades. They are now in their third or fourth generations in those countries. For the overwhelming majority of them, they have lived there for their entire lives, and their parents were born there; they are citizens who speak languages of those European societies as well as their mother tongues, and many of them are graduates of the best universities in Germany, France, the U.K. and others. However, rarely has any one of them felt the sense of belonging and pride that we feel to this land. None of them feel fully German, French or British themselves or feel that they are accepted and recognized as such by their fellow countrymen. And there is very little indication that the situation will be any better for the sixth or seventh generations on the horizon.
This column is not a naïve attempt to glorify U.S. society when it comes to immigration and integration. This is a not a cheap attempt at patriotism. American society is far from perfect and has its own defects and shortcomings. This column and many other platforms are not foreign to some of my deep personal frustrations and disappointments about those defects and shortcomings. However, I say in full confidence and pride that the secular democracy and civic society that the U.S.A. has produced so far are still the healthiest on earth and the best available attempt to understand God’s pluralistic creation of humanity. This society has come a long way in making this country the land of freedom and opportunity for all. It established the individual and collective reality of being an American as an overarching identity for all races, religions and ideologies. American society still has great potential to inspire and encourage the rest of the world to become better at achieving harmonious multicultural, multi-religious pluralistic societies.
There is no doubt we still have a long way to go in sustaining and improving these fundamental characteristics of our society, but it doesn’t hurt to acknowledge our relative success so far. I believe our brighter future as a nation relies heavily on our ability to further improve in becoming a harmonious, diverse society. Progress is our ability to understand and accommodate God’s pluralistic creation of humanity. I for one am hopeful, grateful and proud to be an American.
Abdullah Antepli is the Muslim Chaplain and an adjunct faculty of Islamic Studies. His column runs every other Thursday. Send Abdullah a message on Twitter @aantepli.