Our interviewee for this issue is Vera Bourjeili, originally from Beirut, Lebanon.
Tell me your story as an immigrant.
I came from Lebanon about twenty-five years ago. My husband immigrated in 1993 to be with his family in the USA, who had immigrated a few years earlier. We had been engaged for about a year, but I couldn’t follow him for eight months until the paperwork went through, since you need to be officially married before you can immigrate. When I arrived, I could not speak any English and had to learn it as I went. I was helped along by ESL (English as a Second Language) classes while I obtained my high school diploma. In 1994, I had my daughter, and in 1999, I had my son. I used to be employed with a program called “Even Start” in 1996. It was a program that helped parents with their adult education as well as educating and caring for their children. Then, in 2005, I switched my work to a day care called “Little Peoples Learning Center” here in Danbury, and have been working there since.
What was life like in Lebanon before you immigrated?
My life in Lebanon was actually fine. I was happy for the most part, though my family did move around a lot. I lived in cities, suburbs, even mountainous areas. No matter where I went, though, things were peaceful; no violence, no major adversity. The thing is, however, it’s a social law in Lebanon that you have to follow your husband wherever he goes. When my husband immigrated to join his family, it was essentially required for me to go along with him. I was happy to because I love him, but it was a little sad to leave my home country.
How has America treated you?
It’s a very good country. It’s a great place for immigrants because it offers them a lot of help to find jobs. I learned a lot from the programs intended for people who immigrated after marriage, including how to defend myself. I admit I was a little concerned when I came here; I saw in the USA a lot of families who don’t live together. I heard about a lot of parents who kick their kids out when they reach a certain age or something; we didn’t have that in Lebanon. There, we took family very seriously, and I’ve kept to that here. I keep my family together and don’t plan to make any of them leave. I will protect and support them as much as I can. But aside from that one thing, I’ve learned a lot from this country, and the most important thing I’ve learned is how to keep my family safe and happy. It wasn’t easy to keep everyone together after picking up and immigrating, but I believe it’s important enough to be worth it.
What would your final message be?
I am so happy to be in the USA. We are in a safe place where I don’t feel worried about my children, barring any unexpected accidents, god forbid. I can work, I can have fun, and I can go wherever I want to go without anyone stopping me or saying to me, “What are you doing there?” [America] is a safe place, and it’s the place I like to be the most.
Daniel Trock is a graduate student pursuing a Master’s in Creative and Professional Writing at Western CT State University. He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.