The American Dream

“Life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.”

-James Truslow Adams’s definition of the American Dream

For the past month and a half, I have been working at an internship with an NGO that helps African immigrants in Chicago.  Refugees and asylum seekers are given help with attaining legal status, improving their level of English, understanding the American social service system, and with the task of restarting their lives, safe from whatever may have threatened them in their countries of origin.  Many are given the chance to live what is considered the American Dream; to start with nothing but a green card, and then to work their way toward financial stability and a comfortable home for themselves, their families, and their children.  As I mentioned in my last post, the process of feeling at home in a new place takes a long time, and it certainly must take longer for those who had no choice but to leave home.  After dreaming for years of a better life in America, the life here for immigrants is not all spacious green lawns, smiling kids, and sleek cars.  Usually, it involves living in small apartments, making frequent trips on public transportation to wait in lines for social services, and to struggle to find city schools that offer quality education.
One of my projects at work has been to research where in Chicago the majority of African immigrants live.  The North side is often thought of as the immigrant neighborhood, and has many African, Arab, and South Asian restaurants that are well-known throughout the city.  However, I found that only a fraction of Africans live in this area.  The majority actually live much further south, in the African-American neighborhoods that are rarely (if ever) seen by tourists and even by most Chicago residents.  These neighborhoods are known for their empty lots, lack of fresh food, gangs, and high crime rates.  Africans are supposedly the most educated immigrant group in the U.S., yet in Chicago, they often live in neighborhoods where they fit in based on skin color, but not at all by education level or by culture.
Living on the South side of Chicago is probably better than living somewhere where one could be killed just for his or her religious or political beliefs.  But is really the American Dream?   Can life really be richer and fuller for immigrants who become implicated in the worst of America’s social problems?

Insider vs. Outsider

The most important thing I learned the first time I lived in Morocco was that I am not Moroccan. It seems obvious, but it sure took me a long time to learn. I wanted to study at a Moroccan university because I wanted to have lots of Moroccan friends, participate in Moroccan traditions, and speak Moroccan Arabic.  The friends I have made in Morocco are certainly friends I never would have made anywhere else, and I’ve learned a lot about traditions, culture, and language.  However, I haven’t really made any close Moroccan friends.  But I am okay with that; just because I am not having the experience I expected, doesn’t mean I’m not learning a lot.

IMG_3644

One thing I have learned is how to make peanut sauce with cassava.

As I’ve mentioned before, I love living in Morocco. But perhaps not for things directly related to Moroccan culture. I originally came here to study Arabic, but now, after many hours of Standard Arabic I actually prefer to take this opportunity to learn French.  And that’s a great thing to do here, because Moroccans are not judgmental of bad French! I also have really enjoyed being part of Christian communities in Morocco, and I think being part of a minority has strengthened those bonds and made my place in the community more obvious. To give a more mundane example, I also really love tea, and I enjoy that there are many types of tea available, but I don’t really like how sugary Moroccan mint tea is. So in general, I benefit from the situation I am in because of being in Morocco, but not necessarily for the obvious reasons.

IMG_3650

This Moroccan mint tea set is contributing to my apartment’s Christmas decorations.

I think it is important to learn about the culture you are living in, but I also think that it is important not to forget who you are and how you may or may not fit into your host country. I’m not Moroccan…but I am so thankful for what I have learned and experienced in this country, because those things would not be the same anywhere else in the world.