An open letter to my Muslim immigrant father
To My Egyptian Muslim Father:
As a child growing up in Orange County, California, I longed for you to be “normal.” How I wished that you would wear a UCLA baseball cap to our swim meets like all the other dads, rather than a cowboy hat you bought in Utah because you wanted to be “American.” How I wished that you would call me “princess” or “pumpkin” like all the other dads, rather than “bakukah” (which I think loosely means “little round ball” in Arabic). How I wished that you would watch American football like all the other dads, rather than record soccer 24/7 (and commandeer the TV during the World Cup). How I wished that you would take us to barbecues like all the other dads, rather than to Egyptian-American picnics (where you have to eat at least three servings and everyone shouts over each other at once).
But as I have become an adult who has her own apartment, boyfriend (I know you love him because you bluntly asked when we are getting married and having kids), and job as an English teacher, I have grown to love the fact that you are not “normal.”
I love that you are an immigrant from such a fascinating country. I love that you took me to Egypt so that I could meet the amazing, kind people who live there, including my relatives. I love that we rode together in horse-drawn carriages, through 4,000-year-old temples, and to the majestic Pyramids. I love that you told stories of leaving Egypt to pursue an education in England, then choosing to come to America over Brazil to help build our planes.
I love that you have never been ashamed to be an immigrant, nor have you ever hidden who you are.
I love that you told me stories of all the countries you have traveled, so that I am now inspired — and not afraid — to see the world for myself. I love that, from your stories and encouragement, I have visited four continents and lived on two.
I love that you taught me about soccer, because now, when I travel the world, I always have an easy conversation starter with anyone. I love that you taught me how to eat at least three servings, as Egyptians are not the only culture that loves to eat.
I love that you taught me about Islam, and that you practice it as a peaceful religion that simply teaches its followers to love — just as any other major religion does.
Right now, we are in troubled times. I can only half-quote Charles Dickens on this one, because this isn’t “the best of times” — it’s quite literally turning into “the worst of times.” (Admittedly, the world has been through worse — but sadly, the current circumstances are leaning in that direction.) What I admire about you is that, even in these troubled times, you have not given up hope or become angry — even when you, of all people, are probably the most justified in feeling that way.
You still believe in the power of the people, and that most people are generally kind — a belief that seems to be faltering among many.
I admire your faith, and I am grateful to have your strength and your wisdom as a beacon of light right now.
And as it turns out, your faith in the goodness of people is not unfounded. From the church that came to your mosque the Friday after Trump was elected, bringing messages of warmth (and, most importantly, food), to the recent protests going on at airports to help those who are detained, we have seen proof that, indeed, people are generally kind.
Even still, I fear the recent attacks on Muslims.
Every night before I go to bed, I pray that I will not receive a phone call that your mosque has been burned to the ground, or that you were the latest victim of a hate crime.
I pray that I can emulate a bit of your wisdom and strength, and remember that most people are on the side of good. I remind myself to be as brave and as kind as you are.
I admit that we have not always had the best relationship. We have had screaming fights and multiple disagreements. But if we did not argue, if we got along perfectly, our relationship would not be nearly as strong. Every family fights, but it’s how they resolve their disputes that really defines a relationship. If we never faced any tests with our loved ones, then we would never truly know whether they will stick by our side. Since you have always stuck by me, no matter what, I know that our relationship will always be strong, and that no one — whether it’s the government or those with hate in their hearts — can tear that apart.
When I broke up with my ex, you comforted me through my tears and gave me this advice:
“You need heartbreak in order to create great art. If you never experience heartbreak, if you never truly experience pain, then you can never create moving art. From great pain comes great art, which means that, one day, from your heartbreak, great art will come.
I remind myself of these words as I look at our country. We are experiencing great pain. We are experiencing heartbreak. But from it, one day, will come great art.
I am proud that you are different. I am proud that you are not like all the other dads.
I am proud that you are an immigrant and a Muslim.
I am proud because, if you weren’t all these things, you would not have given me the strength and love to become the woman that I am today.
Your loving daughter,
Sarah Yasmin Osman