Coming to America: Immigrant memoirs
Political science Prof. Ron Stockton (far left) poses with seven of the UM-Dearborn students and alumni who participated in a recent project in which they shared their own immigrant memoirs. Photo by Tina Nelson.
It was rare to find Ridha Al-Wishah without a fork when he first moved to the U.S.
French fries. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Even pizza. All foods that generally are feasted on by hand, the UM-Dearborn student and Iraqi native used a fork.
“We were the cleanest and quietest kids, in fear we’d be deported,” he said. “We were forced to conform more than we were used to.”
Al-Wishah, along with six other UM-Dearborn students and alumni, recently shared his immigrant memoir as part of an ongoing project led by political science Professor Ron Stockton.
All seven of them shared their stories Nov. 14 at the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters building. Stockton recruited a group of 40 UM-Dearborn students and alumni who relocated from their native countries to the U.S. He then asked them to write a letter to their descendants in the year 2100, telling them about their experiences as immigrants coming to the U.S.
Maryann Rafka, a UM-Dearborn student who came to the U.S. from Syria, and others relished the experience of telling their stories.
“It’s one of the best things I’ll probably ever do,” she said.
Damir Vucicevic agreed. The UM-Dearborn student came to the U.S. from Yugoslavia in 2000 and admits he had mixed feelings about the move, especially following the NATO bombing of Serbia. But Vucicevic had family who relocated to the U.S. and reassured him the move would be beneficial.
However, no encouragement could prepare Vucicevic for the routine hospital check-ups.
In fact, Vucicevic, who’s open about his fear of needles, passed out shortly after his first time giving blood. But hospital visits aside, Vucicevic eventually settled in, met plenty of friends and adapted to U.S. culture.
“It went up from there,” he said. “I met some of the most wonderful people here.”
Maissaa Dakhlallah, a UM-Dearborn student who moved to the U.S. from Congo, also has adapted to Western culture, but said she continues to struggle balancing the two.
“I’m kind of like playing tug of war with myself,” said Dakhlallah, who’s of Lebanese heritage.
Dakhlallah said her culture doesn’t condone dating and preaches strict curfews, something she struggles to grasp because her friends aren’t subject to the same ideals.
“Dive into American culture, but don’t drown in it,” she said.
The seven students and alumni, including Cynthia Munoz, Nahia Rmeiti and Eva Gogola, don’t receive academic credit for their immigrant memoirs, and Stockton leads the project on a volunteer basis. Stockton remains committed to the project because of the personal benefit he gains from listening to the stories.
“These are some of the most thoughtful people I have ever encountered, and this is one of the most rewarding projects of my career,” he said.