I came to the US from Morocco in 1992 to pursue graduate studies in Linguistics. I earned a Master’s degree in Linguistics from Ohio University in Athens Ohio in 1995. After that I came to Boston to pursue a PhD in Applied Linguistics at Boston University. I chose the Boston area because my sister and her family lived in Cambridge and wanted to be close to them. While I was finishing my PhD program, I met my husband, Omar Baba, who also came for graduate studies from Lebanon. We both made the decision to stay in the US (a neutral place for both of us) to start a family. Because of the decision to live in the US, I decided to switch from linguistics to communication sciences and disorders. I attended the MGH-Institute of Health Professions from 1999–2001 and I became a licensed speech-language pathologist in 2002.
My husband and I lived in Arlington while I was attending school at the MGH-IHP. I started my first full-time professional job in 2001 at New England Rehab Hospital in Woburn and I used to drive through Winchester and I liked the town. When my husband and I decided to buy our first home, we looked at neighboring towns to Arlington where we can raise a family. Winchester was one of our top choices because of the reputation of its school system and that is how we ended up in Winchester in 2002. Both our sons Nadeem and Kaleem were born at Winchester Hospital.
As a newer member of American society, were there any challenges that you faced?
There are many challenges immigrants face in America. One of the challenges I personally faced when I was a student on an F1 Visa was the constraint of not being able to work, which would have allowed me to be financially more independent. As a foreigner, I was unable to apply for student loans either and I had only a few majors to choose from if I wanted to get merit scholarships. Without family support, both financially and emotionally, I would not have been able to pursue my studies in the US. When I met my husband, he was already working for an engineering company that was willing to sponsor him for a green card. After our immigration status changed to residents and then naturalized citizens, lots of doors were opened for us. For example, I was able to apply for student loans and choose a new major I really wanted to pursue.
What do you think are challenges that current immigrants to Winchester face?
I am afraid that immigrants get lumped into one class or group. We all have different stories to tell and we are all at different journeys of our lives. Because I cannot speak for all immigrants in Winchester, I will talk about my own story living in Winchester. I am pretty sure some of the immigrants in Winchester will relate to my experience/story.
Living in Winchester was a real eye-opener. I came to Winchester after living in the US for about 20 years. I thought I was well assimilated and integrated into mainstream America. In fact, I did not really feel any cultural shock when I first moved to the US. But I did feel homesick and I could not wait to go back to Morocco before I met my husband. I used to find it strange when people would ask me questions like “Living in the US must be a big cultural shock for you. It must be so different living now in the US compared to Morocco. As a woman, you should feel lucky living in the US because you have more freedom and you don’t have to wear a veil. Is it the first time you see snow?” Such questions used to puzzle me and I have to say used to make me mad at times. Then I started to ignore them and blamed it on people’s ignorance. During my first 20 years living in the US, I realized that I interacted primarily with people from diverse backgrounds, especially international graduate students. For family social events, we often used to hang out with our Arabic friends who came from different Arabic countries.
Raising our kids in Winchester forced us to live outside our bubble and unlike before when I used to ignore people’s comments about how they perceive immigrants, I found myself answering and/or objecting to their comments because I felt such comments are now negatively affecting my kids and their own judgment about immigrants and minority groups, especially Arabs and Muslims whom I relate to the most.
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Watch this space each Friday this March for another of our five Women’s History Month 2019 honoree.