An Immigrant Experience

Hello All! I am Ammirah Lune and I will be writing about what life is like as a Muslim American in present-day United States. I will also discuss Islamic culture and traditions in hopes that my posts will help defeat stereotypes and misinformation both about Islam and what it means to be a Muslim & American. In this post, I will give a slight introduction to myself.

I came to New York in 2004 at the age of 7 with my parents. I vaguely remember that our relatives had all come to see us off at the airport and that I had been feeling really excited about going on an airplane. This feeling was so intense that it still resonates with me after 13 years. It was going to be my first time on an airplane and first time out of the country!

I have two sisters named Safeenah and Haniya and a brother named Rohail. We were at that time sharing an apartment with a relative until my father found a job, which he did two months later at a hotel in Bronx. Coincidentally, the hotel had another opening available so Safeenah was also able to go to work alongside my father. However, it was a minimum wage job and because we didn’t know that my sisters could be candidates for college aid, my parents ended up spending a hefty amount on college admissions and other related costs. Now, you can imagine, our resources were beginning to drain by a lot: rents, education costs, travel costs, food, utilities and the list goes on. We had to rely on my father and Safeenah’s earnings. Rohail at that time had just started high school and I was in elementary school so we couldn’t support our family. Haniya had also just begun college which I know she felt very alone in initially. Safeenah had decided to take a break before she continued her higher level studies so she could contribute to the household income. It was a huge transition for all of us.

At that time, however, I didn’t really have a conscious awareness of the importance of our move. I didn’t know that it would completely change our lives, that my father would end up working such intense hours that I would hardly see him, that my sisters would eventually both have to work alongside their studies, and that my mother would have to give up her business and her passion for being a makeup artist. I think my parents and siblings felt the impact of our move more than I did since I was too young to really understand such matters. I know my mother really loved having her own salon and she had planned to continue her trade here, but she gave up her dream to take care of my brother and me.

It was a difficult beginning. We missed our home, our familiar surroundings, and neighborhood. We missed the fact that friends and family would come unannounced at any time. I remember everyone saying here, ‘Why do we have to schedule appointments to meet each other? Where’s the familiarity?’  It’s funny to me how we have kind of become like that now.

Out of everything I recall about my birth country, my most vivid memories are of our house. We used to live in a suburban neighborhood with beautiful, wide houses that had flat, fenced roofs that you could go on and garden both inside the compound and outside so I was never deprived of a place to play. As much as my mother likes makeup, she likes gardening even more so, therefore, our gardens were always brimming with flowers, fruit trees, and vegetable vines that covered whole walls. Pair this with my father’s love of animals and this would give you a kid’s wonderland. My parents decided on giving up all this for the American Dream—for a better education and better opportunities for my siblings and me.

Fortunately, we didn’t face any discrimination when we first came here. I am sure it was on everyone’s mind since we had heard that the amount of hate crimes had risen after 9/11, but according to my mother, we didn’t face anything overtly discriminatory. The only time we faced such a hassle was when Haniya applied for a job in a bank and the bank told her that she would have to take off her hijab for them to hire her.

It is tough to be an immigrant no matter where you come from.  When you are an immigrant, everything else is so foreign and difficult that it is really hard to make progress in your new land unless you have some friends and family there already. Thank God, we did so we weren’t completely lost. Nevertheless, I sympathize with all immigrants out there who not only have to face newness but also the stigma of being an immigrant.