Credit: IOM/ John Walder
“Growing up very poor in post-war Egypt, my father’s intellectual talent was his access to the United States, while for my mother – who got married to such a man – it was an adventure.
My mother thought that it was going to be only a temporary stay until my father finishes his studies. When she came to the United States, my mother was able to have a little bit of freedom. Coming from a traditional Egyptian family, she had had almost no freedom under her father and her brothers’ watch. Being in a new and different place seemed exciting at that time.
Nonethless, the initial years were very hard for her because she was here to be a companion for my father who was studying Economics and who was fluent in English. However, my mother didn't speak the language and was not able to work. It was very isolating. She got pregnant with me immediately after arriving here. It was a difficult pregnancy. She felt very vulnerable.
I myself spent the earliest years of my life thinking we were going go back. As a little young child, I spoke Arabic first. I didn't speak English until later on.
I remember sometimes looking out the window at the neighbors’ children playing and my mom would tell me that there was no point to go with them because we were supposed to go back. For a long time, I had the sense that I was not like them and that I wasn't at home. However, one day we figured out that we were going to stay here. We didn’t have a long-term game plan or strategy. My parents’ initial strategy was then to assimilate and blend at all costs.”