A friendly city I call home

A twenty one year old woman exits John F. Kennedy airport on a foggy May afternoon in 1992. It was the first time she traveled to the United States from her native country, Morocco. My mother, Mariam, could not help but feel apprehensive about her life in the United States; she questioned her decision to emigrate because she left her entire family behind. Fortunately, the feelings of homesickness and sadness subsided the next day when my father took her to see the tourist attractions in Manhattan. My father, Aziz came with a French friend to the United States from Morocco in the 1979. My father stayed with his friend for two days and then he eventually got a job as a waiter at a hotel in Manhattan. Over the next decade my father continued to work at different hotels and married my mother in 1989. Since that time Aziz worked on gathering the necessary documents to bring Mariam to the United States. Both my father and mother are from Tangier, Morocco.

Compared to Tangier, Manhattan was a completely different sight. The tall skyscrapers, the bright lights and the huge billboards that decorated Time Square bewildered Mariam. She felt like she was in a “dream world (because) everything I saw in American movies back in Morocco was right in front of me.” While no words could describe how she felt at that moment, my mother remembered constantly saying “Wow!” at every new display she encountered.

Over the course of her first year in the United States, Mariam visited numerous tourist attractions including the Statue of Liberty, Niagara Falls and Atlantic City. Through these experiences, Mariam became more acquainted with the American culture. Mariam also socialized with people in her community and learned from their experiences. In Astoria, she met people with various ethnic backgrounds such as: Greece, South America, Poland, Egypt and France.

In contrast, the population in Tangier is homogenous with few foreigners from Spain and France. Having a community of people with different backgrounds made Mariam feel that she could easily assimilate into the diverse culture that comprised New York City. At one point her neighbors had to go through the same process of assimilating into a new country, so Mariam felt confident that she would be able to do the same. Moreover, her neighbors were friendly and accepting of new immigrants, which made the transition smoother.

It took Mariam approximately six months for her to learn conversational and written American English. Although she had knowledge of basic British English, Mariam wanted to assimilate by learning American English. She did so by watching news and comedy shows, and by reading beginner’s English books. Mariam picked up the language relatively quickly because she came to the United States with knowledge of three languages: Arabic, French and conversational Spanish. At times Mariam would stumble on words; however, it was never a major issue because her neighbors politely corrected her mistakes.

Given the friendly nature of her neighbors and the vast opportunities present, Mariam felt that New York City was a great place to raise her children. She valued the educational possibilities that are available to anyone regardless or his or her age, gender or nationality. Consequently, Mariam enrolled in a GED class through which she helped my brother and I with our homework and expanded her knowledge of the culture in New York City. Like Mariam, most of the GED students were recent immigrants or the children of immigrants; during class the students shared their experiences and hardships with each other creating a mini-community.

Mariam places a high value on education because it is readily available and can be attained by anyone through hard work. She inspires my brothers and I to take advantage of our education because she is a firm believer in the American Dream. Mariam holds hopes that through a good education her children will establish foundations for themselves and afford a better lifestyle. After twenty years of living in New York City, Mariam can confidently say that New York is her home. In fact, she admits to feeling like a stranger when she goes to visit Morocco. Even though it was tough to leave her family behind, she is grateful for her decision and looks forward to seeing her children become successful.

*I chose to write this essay in my mother’s perspective because I do not have a lot of information regarding my father’s journey to the United States. I felt that it was better to tell the story from my mother’s point of view because she recalls the journey vividly.

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