Auto Ethnography Sebastian Nieland

Fall 2017 Growing up in a third world country is a difficult task, but assimilating from a third world country to a first world country is something that many immigrants in America face (1). Adding to that, the older you are when you migrate, the harder the transition is for you. I came to America on a plane, 3 short years after my birth in Casablanca, Morocco (2). My parents were not of upper class, and were barely middle class. My father worked as a banker for 15 years before moving to America with his family, which consisted of him, my mother, my newborn sister and I. When we arrived, his brother helped him with living arrangements, where he introduced him to the landlord of the house in Astoria, Queens which we still reside in today (2).

I was put into pre-school shortly after arriving, with no English under my belt and just Arabic and French to go on. I had learned most of my English from watching television shows and cartoons. I started school ostracized from the other due to language barriers. I had never felt alone in Morocco, because I was always with my grandmother, aunts, uncles and parents. Yet in this new environment, I felt more out of place than anything. Kids around the age of 4-5 can be pretty mean, since they have yet to be influenced by propaganda and several other things like discrimination and such so everything they say is brute honesty. I clearly remember one day specifically and the amount of isolation that followed it. It was September 11th, 2001. I was sitting on the carpet with my other classmates as a book was being read to us by the teacher. When, all of a sudden, the schools emergency alarm went off. A teacher came rushing in saying that the Twin Towers had been struck by a plane. Immediately I had no idea what was going on.

The teacher told us to remain seated until she was given further instructions. Now I went to elementary school and high school both a block away from home. So my mother came running into the school trying to take me home. After being told to wait outside, since the school was evacuating all the students, sending those whose parents came running to pick them up home, we went home and my mom is frantically calling my father who isn’t answering. I can sense the stress my mother is going through yet I wasn’t sure as to why. My father when we first came to America worked as a taxi driver, so driving in Manhattan was regular for him, it wasn’t until after my dad told me that he was close enough to the site of the collision to feel a sort of earthquake and hear people screaming, that I realized that she assumed the worst. After my dad came home, she began crying and crying for hours about how many people had probably died and how she thought he died as well. My father was crying because he wanted to be one of the people to help those in need but he couldn’t because the client he had in his cab was a mother and her 4 children, and didn’t want to endanger their lives. To end this story as to why I remember that day is because the following day, I went to class and received very piercing stares.

The reason for this is because the class the day before 9/11/2001, September the 10th, celebrated my birthday. Yes, I was an Islamic boy named Sebastian whose birthday was the day before 9/11. I received many threats from some classmates and was called a terrorist, yet the thing that disgusted me the most was when people said that since I was born the day before the attack, I had to be affiliated with such an act. Thankfully enough, as a child, something of the caliber of morality and lives being lost doesn’t fully register, so the name calling and such stopped shortly after yet now as a Muslim-American, along with others in my class, I was the most hated person in the room. This all happened in pre-school, so the following year I went to elementary school, and happily never met any of those kids in that class again. When elementary school started, I went to the school that was also a block away from my house.I remember going a long time without friends, just going back and forth from school and home, my mother always smiling at me and urging me to make friends.

I was considered a troublemaker, yet I feel that as a child, self-expression is a key element in developing as a person, so since I had yet to be able to convey my emotions of isolation through speech, I always had outbursts and physical altercations with other kids. It wasn’t until I finished my pre-school year, with barely any friends that I met my first real friend, Jamal Keeling. Being born in an African country, I was used to seeing people with darker complexions than myself. Yet the difference between African and African-American was something I hadn’t encountered. When I first met Jamal, I remember him talking with what I now know as slang. Saying stuff like yoand dude and bruh was all new words to me. I decided to talk to him and it turned out that even though he had a different way of speaking, we were interested in the same television shows and sports. In Astoria, everyone goes to two different elementary schools, two different high schools and two different middle schools. So Jamal and I ended up spending kindergarten to 8th grade as classmates. Knowing someone for almost 9 years, especially during your youth means that you’ll never forget the person (3).

I quickly made more and more friends as the years went on and had terrific times that look back at now and smile to myself about. I went to middle school with Jamal as well, and in the same manner I went to school close to home, literally right across the street from my door. Though being accepted to a gifted middle school which my parents denied because it was too far from home and they worried a lot because they had yet to get used to the neighborhood. Middle school went by fast and was one of the most fun times of my life. But as high school approached, I finally was allowed to attend school in the city. Jamal, in reverse, went to high school close to home because of domestic issues he went through.

I began to miss Jamal and the other friends I had in middle school deeply, because I felt like I was in place with the social role that I had to play yet I made friends in high school just as quickly as the first week all because I had a friend and was involved in a community where though my religion was being discriminated against, the kids and adults were just caring and kind. I think that in comparison to my experience, many new immigrants children who have yet to learn English should try to work on making relationships with such people. With this in mind, how you do on making friends and how you develop as a youth has so many factors in contribution like how old you are, how much English you speak, how much income your parents bring home, where you live, what school you go to, what is the major ethnicity where you live and attend school, the list could go on for a while. Yet due to the fact that people are insecure about themselves as immigrants is something that is caused by media and commercialism. I have experienced this as an immigrant myself, until age 9 when I officially became a citizen of the US, yet always an immigrant at heart (1).

My father believes in conserving the traditions of culture, which is totally fine, but the flaw I see with that is most immigrant parents are raising their children as they themselves were raised, in their countries. The social differences between Morocco and America are vast. Morocco is an Islamic nation with 99% of its population following Muslim religion, while America is a Christian nation, or at least that’s what some would like to call it. So the upbringing is greatly different, due to factors besides religion, like how much money the country makes, how many schools there are, what the society and community are like and even if the country is in war. Morocco is currently not in any wars, while America has seen a few of them in its lifetime (1). So the cultures are ultimately different. So, of course it’s hard to transition, but it’s not impossible.

The main point I was trying to achieve is that immigrants should feel at home in a country. Coming to a country and feeling not a part of the society is what leads to discrimination and many other issues. Yet if people were to migrate, and were welcomed to start their new lives and raise their children and etc. the lives of people in communities would change immensely and if this goal were to be achieved (in an ideal world, not this one) there would definitely be a boost in economies and revenue and many other things.