Last Wednesday evening, my wife and I held a barbeque potluck in Rochester for several of the Iraqi refugee families. Over sweet corn on the cob and kebabs, grilled chicken and biryani, English and Arabic, the fifteen of us enjoyed swapping stories and attempting to best each other in a variety of lawn games. My wife was mesmerized by a young boy making up elaborate stories in Arabic about a bocce ball and our two mutts.
“What a beautiful child. I hope his name doesn’t cause him too much grief, that people can see past ‘Osama’ and see the wonderful person he is.”
The United States just recently opened its doors to Iraqi visas and refugees. Before 2007, virtually no Iraqis were allowed to immigrate to the U.S., despite the fact that between Desert Storm and the latest Iraq War, more than 2.7 million Iraqis are displaced internally and more than 1.5 million are external refugees in Syria alone. (Refugees International) Those that who count themselves fortunate enough to have arrived in the United States now face the dilemma of procuring employment amidst almost 10% unemployment rates nationwide. (Semple, Kirk. Iraqi Immigrants Face Lonely Struggle in U.S.)
The International Rescue Committee released a report in June which chronicled that many Iraqi immigrants have been unable to find jobs, are running out of benefits, and are edging toward poverty. More than 30,000 Iraqis have been resettled in the U.S., with another 1,500 being granted asylum status. And yet the job opportunities have not necessarily resettled with them. (Semple, Kirk. Iraqi Immigrants Face Lonely Struggle in U.S.)
My friend D. proudly told me that he now has two jobs, one in a small-town factory and one in a near-by furniture upholstery shop. His eyes are tired, but he doesn’t let on that he begrudges either of these menial labor positions, despite the fact he ran several such factories in Iraq less than a decade ago. He is proud, proud that he is providing for his family and not relying on American handouts, proud that he is a being a good Muslim and working for his meals and family.
For many Iraqis, like the families living in Manhattan’s Upper West Side [where I worked a few years ago as a waiter], the transition from Baghdad, Al Basrah, and Kirkuk is wrenching. They traded sand for snow, tight-knit communities for urban sprawl, ancient Persian ruins for buildings boasting one-hundred-year anniversaries.
When D’s daughter talks about the Olmsted County Fair, however, there is nothing but joy in her voice. “The ride spun us round and round. We rode with father the first time, but then we rode it all by ourselves.”
Her sister was quick to chime in. “The man even let us ride for free a couple of times, since we loved it so much.
When I asked her if it was as good as the fairs in Iraq, she shook her head no. But D. quickly corrected her. “Child, this was only a small fair. Later in August there will be a big fair, the state fair. This we will see. It will be even bigger and better.”