After so many years living in the Diaspora, can you still be part of home?
Kurdishaspect.com - By Helene Sairany
No native will ever imagine the problems immigrant families deal with upon entering a new country, let alone the hardships they encounter once they arrive. Kurdish families are of no exception. At a very young age, my life had become a struggle. I found myself in a place where culture, language and people were vastly different than my own. Though I left Kurdistan at a very young age, the memories of all the tragic events that happened to us in Kurdistan were still vivid.
In 1996, we were destined to leave Kurdistan and head to the United States. We faced many obstacles but the language barrier was the hardest of all. “Try your best” -- that was the only statement that I used to understand in school. I started reading children’s level books, which were in very simple English. I started using the dictionary to increase my vocabulary. I did not give up because my mother taught me that if I had something planted in my head and am ready to sacrifice, I WILL achieve it. Competency in school here in the States did not necessarily mean achieving academic excellence. It required an active role in the community and maintaining a good leadership position. I had to participate in a great number of activities and excel in all my courses. Family members had to sacrifice by driving me hours away to get to the destination were we had to fund raise for a cause, practice for a game, or to visit a nursing home. Requirements of these sorts were hard for my parents to understand but nevertheless they were ready to sacrifice for my success.
Being expelled from your own culture as a child is traumatic. Cultural differences made it difficult for me to establish friendships. I was going through a difficult transition from a very strict/patriotic cultural background, where the practice of double standards is prevalent, where superiority of men over women is a given, and where females are not advocated to seek education to a culture where females were routinely given opportunities. It is their choice, yet they have to determine and choose how they want to live their new life based upon their upbringing, keeping in mind the positive and negative long-term effects. There was always a constant struggle plaguing me whether to assimilate or not. The immigrant’s choices can either work for them, or cause repercussions, but it is their choice whether they would want to lose their true identity by conforming or not.
Being brought up in America has taught me many beautiful things. It has taught me what it means to be a Kurd. It has taught me how to fight for my rights as a Kurd and it made all the tools available for me to fight for this right. My upbringing in the west also taught me how hard work requires zero talent and how it can payoff. With my hard work I was able to get into top schools to acquire my undergraduate and doctoral degree. Being brought up in America also made me feel that I was of no lesser value because of my identity or gender. With hard work, persistence and strong faith, I was able to fund-raise, to travel all around the world, to give talks, to protest, to challenge governors for my rights, and to shout as loud as I could for many causes that meant so much to me. My upbringing in the States also taught me that making a change is not impossible no matter how many obstacles fall in my path. Through my studies in the States, I have learned that I can change anything I don’t like, as long as I maintain a respect for other opinions. I have learned that if I fail in changing what I dislike, I can find alternatives, and if I fail in finding any alternative, I have to convince myself to change my perception through my education. The more informed I become, the more choices I see myself come up with. This way the mind gets used to dealing with alternatives.
While living in the States, I have traveled to as many countries as possible. My education has required me to travel and present my research work to miscellaneous conferences in different countries. Traveling internationally has taught me coexistence, tolerance, respect of other’s cultural practice and religious beliefs. Every country I visited taught me something beautiful that defines who I am. Through traveling, I learned how to respect other points of view, it taught me how to value tolerance and peace and condemn discrimination.
Coming to the States at a very young age by all means has made a huge transition in my personality as a young Kurd. Despite my pride in Kurdish identity, I’ve always challenged myself with this question, am I an American or a Kurd when it comes to culture and personality. The years I grew up in the States, I also grew in my mind an image full of hope for Kurdistan; an image free of strict/patriotic cultural practice, free of judgmental and tribal practice, free of double standards, free of men’s superiority over women. In the last few years, I heard so much about how the region is progressing. With this progress, I was hoping there will be an end to some practices I mentioned above.
I recently visited Kurdistan to celebrate Nawruz of 2010. This was my very first Nawruz in Kurdistan since childhood. I can’t deny the fact that visiting Kurdistan, I went through a bit of a culture shock. While there, I felt many things were challenging for me to practice and many things in me were no longer defined by the religion and the culture practiced in the region. While there, I was reminded that because of the fact I was a female, many things had to change, things that I did not necessarily find wrong. So why am I demanded to change? In the States, I am respected for being different but in my own country, I am expected to change something that I strongly believe in because of cultural restrictions imposed merely because I am female?
Like any Kurd who grew up in the Diaspora, I’ve always had the feeling of missing home. Not only that, now that I am done with school I find hope in returning home to be a part of the promising change that the region is facing. Will it ever be possible to follow my true desire of being part of home and also be assertive about the values I’ve learned in the West?