Op-Ed: A Girl From Senegal
By: Sydni Mackey
It was the year 1972 when a little three-year-old girl immigrated with her mother, father, and older three siblings from Dakar, Senegal in West Africa to Flint, Michigan.
Her father, Nasri, received a family immigration visa because several of his cousins immigrated from Lebanon in the early 1900s and founded Hamady Brothers supermarkets in 1911. Nasri moved his family to America for a better life and opportunities. The little girl came to the United States only speaking French and Arabic, not knowing a word of English.
Two years later, the family saved enough money to buy a house in the rural town, of Swartz Creek, Michigan. Swartz Creek was mostly white Christians and this girl was Middle Eastern of Druze descent. The now five-year-old girl started kindergarten, knowing very little English. It was her first time ever attending school. She was the only foreign girl in a class of all white students. As she was growing up, her focus was to assimilate as an American and be like everyone else. She stopped speaking any other language besides English and tried to hide her Lebanese culture. Some of her siblings even changed their names to sound more American. The girl had an advantage over her siblings, though. She started school in America when she was young, but her brothers and sister had to switch from their school in Senegal to a school in Michigan.
As the years went by, when other students would find out the girl was an immigrant and that her parents were from Lebanon, they would call her hateful names, such as a terrorist. She was a target of hate just because she and her family were different. Her friends questioned her food because it was Lebanese. People judged her because her food was different from what everyone else was eating. After these incidents, she lost all pride in her culture. At times, she was emotionally upset because she could not change where she came from. Some people did not want to embrace the girl’s culture. The junior high years seem to be the most emotional and difficult because of the racist speech by other students.
As the girl and her peers matured, more people started to embrace her culture. They started wanting to eat Lebanese food and learn more about the culture. By that time it was too late. The girl lost the Arabic language because of all the years of refusing to speak it. Now looking back the girl regrets not standing up and accepting her culture even though she was in a foreign land. This little girl was my mom.
The United States is supposed to be a place for immigrants to begin new lives, but they are not always treated with open arms. Fifty years after my mom arrived with her family in America, there is still hate toward immigrants. I woke up today with news of someone targeting Muslims in New Mexico. When will we educate our youth to embrace other cultures and coexist in the US? When will we look at others and not see someone by the color of their skin, but as another human?