LP: Rema, you have a unique story. Fill us in on some of the details.
RK: I was born here in Charlotte, NC. However, my dad left Syria because he had to. He was a rebellious teenager and was against the regime, so he was forced to leave to avoid being taken by the government. He married my mom 10 years later and brought her to the United States. My father’s side of the family was able to escape early during the war but my mother’s side of the family, being with the government, stayed. Right now, I live with my parents and 2 of my 5 siblings.
LP: Are there plans for your other siblings to join you here in America?
RK: We wanted to arrange for them all to come and seek asylum in the United States and then apply for Naturalization. However, they cannot afford to pick up all of their families, which are quite large, and move here. There is also the issue of leaving the country. It is almost impossible. There’s not much we can do other than pray they make it out safe.
LP: Does the fact that your mom and dad are on opposite sides of the conflict pose any difficulties in your family?
RK: My parents do tend to argue about the situation frequently and it’s hard for them to respect each other’s family. My mother’s family is pro-regime and her brother is very high up in the military, while my father’s side of the family are anti-regime and are rebels. My father tends to blame my mother’s side for the deaths of many innocent civilians, while my mother blames my father’s side for the war to begin with. It’s all to be expected in this situation and my parents try and hope for the best.
LP: You have had some interesting school experiences here in America. Tell us about that.
RK: I did attend Arabic schools on the weekends for 7 years (the Islamic Center of Charlotte and the Muslim American Society), and those do greatly differ from American schools. Arabic schools both here and overseas are more religious and community oriented. Classes on Islam, the religion in Syria, were required and if you didn’t memorize certain scriptures you couldn’t pass. Another difference is that at the end of middle school you were tested, and if your grades were not what they wanted, you couldn’t move onto the next level. For example, if I wanted to become an engineer or chemist, I would be tested and if my scores weren’t high enough, I would not be allowed to pursue that career. Here in the United States, they push for students to go to college. In Syria they don’t.
LP: What is your favorite subject in school and why? What do you like to read?
RK: My favorite subject in school is Science, more specifically Anatomy and Physiology because it’s something that came naturally to me and because I’ve been able to apply what I’ve learned into my life. However, I am an avid reader. Reading is something I’ve always loved. Growing up, it was a way for me to escape the real world, full of expectations and decisions. I like to read anything from YA fiction to autobiographies and memoirs. I think reading is all about connection, so if I come across a work that I can connect to but I don’t necessarily like the genre, I’ll still read it and enjoy it.
LP: How has the recent conflict in Syria affected you and your family?
RK: One thing I can tell you is that Syria, before the war that started around the Spring of 2011, was completely different. By that I mean the atmosphere of the country. It was not chaotic, poor, and unstable like Middle Eastern countries are often stereotyped to be. There was order and peace before the war. People were happy and lived their lives in unison.
Syria is a very strict country, but the people didn’t have a problem with it. The rules they follow are the rules of the Islamic faith. The people all followed the same rules, and there was peace. It’s not like the U.S. where someone is always fighting for something. Syria is a country built on traditions and, until the war, the people followed them and were happy. My parents’ memories of Syria are all good. They believe the people of Syria would’ve continued to live in harmony if it hadn’t been disrupted, for it was all they knew.
LP: What do you think you would like to do as your life’s work?
RK: As a culturally diverse person, I’ve been a victim of stereotypes and prejudice, both of which I am very passionate about. Just by letting people get to know me, they see that what they’ve always been told isn’t true, and that is, Arabs are not all bad. I want to be the voice of so many people like me that can’t let the world know who they are due to their situation. I want to bring the views of myself and the other 500 million Arabs in the world into the light.
I also want to contribute to the world in another way. I want to become a doctor. Due to all the wars that have ruined the Middle East, many civilians have been injured or killed. Children are having their limbs blown off right outside their homes and are dying from hunger and the lack of resources that have resulted from the chaos. I would like to help them and provide them with the healthcare they need by either creating a program where they can come seek refuge in America and receive the treatment they need, or establish a practice in the refugee camps.
LP: What parts of American life do you love best and which do you love least?
RK: One part of the American life that I love best is the freedom and the opportunities. In America you can really accomplish anything regardless of who or what you are as long as you take full advantage of everything that is offered, which not many countries have. One thing I like least about America is the amount of corruption and the system that we have all become a part of without even knowing.
LP: If you had the power to make one big change in the world, what would it be?
RK: If I could make one big change in the world it would be to make each country self-reliant. If each country depended on itself we wouldn’t have to create conflicting relationships. Every country should focus on itself. The United States should focus on the people, the land, and everything that goes on in this country and not worry about others. This isn’t very realistic considering how much it would cost and that we would need full agreement and cooperation to achieve such a large thing. Also, with the population growth rates increasing, soon there won’t be enough space or resources within certain countries to sustain the needs of the people, which increase everyday as well. It’s not exactly world peace, but I think that doing this would impact the world drastically.
LP: I wish you all the best in your future life in America, Rema, and I thank you for sharing your views and ideas with us today. Readers, here is an opportunity to ask questions or leave comments for this very articulate young lady who is seeking better dialogue between two cultures.
Hey READERS, I would love to hear from you.
Is your MIND FULL of old thoughts or new?