In a political and media milieu that would have many believe otherwise, many Syrian-American immigrants like my parents continue to bear an unfaltering pride in America that no partisan virtue-signaling or attempts at derailment can temper.
A few days ago as the Independence Day holiday approached, my parents and I took a trip to the Allegheny National Forest, two and a half hours north from their Pittsburgh home. After a mundane discussion of our plans to haul my furniture and clothing to the New York City apartment I’m moving to in mid-July, we transitioned to the topic of Syria, where my father and I had visited last October. I suppose my eagerness to visit my family’s ancestral home is a product of my ignorance of the quality of life there, especially when the prospect of returning was always met with reluctance from my parents. I was born in the States, where my parents spent the majority of their adult lives, and where they created a new home for themselves, my brother, and I.
During our park excursion I expressed my desire to visit Syria again. While he was always happy that I’ve clung to Syrian culture despite the war that has morphed the western perception of it into little more than a host of strife and terror, he joked that after returning to the States last October, he’s become one of the biggest patriots he knows. “I love this country,” he said, as we weaved through the rolling, tree-swathed hills of western Pennsylvania, a starkly different landscape from that of the arid Middle East.
My father came to the U.S. in 1984, and as the story goes, had only $125 to his name. He shoveled snow in the unforgiving Pittsburgh winters, and mowed lawns in the sweltering summers to scrape together enough to start his own business. My mother followed him in 1994, and has continued to work in the medical field there while providing us a safe, nurturing place to grow up. We always lived comfortable lives, which would be vastly different in Syria, where the average household salary is $100 a month and the threat of war and violence always looms.
My parents were Americans through the Iraq War, and are Americans still as the country remains divided over immigration policies and the travel ban against mostly Muslim countries, including Syria. The Supreme Court recently upheld the president’s ability to ban immigration from these countries while vetting processes are improved to ensure the terrorist attacks occurring in Western Europe aren’t replicated on American soil by poorly-screened migrants. This policy affects people like my parents, who are not only leaving hellish conditions, but may even be religious minorities as my parents were. While the war is drawing down and many Syrians return to their homes, I don’t agree with all tenets of the ban—Syrians who have legally sought immigration to the States for years are being denied that opportunity when they’re the demographic most urgently in need of it, alongside Yemenis.
But my parents were always Americans while also being critics of foreign policy and presidents. They never allowed the politics or pundits poison their conception of the country they consider home—because America was always so much more than that to the two Syrian immigrants who believed the timeless words Abraham Lincoln’s spoke in 1862, that “America is the last best hope on earth.”
Independence Day in my family, like Christmas, is always a holiday that transcended the consumerism that surrounded it. It’s a day of thanks and appreciation. While the hot dogs sear on the grill, and we spread out folding chairs on our lawn to see the fireworks explode from a distance, many Arab-American immigrants like my parents celebrate the generosity of the country they now call their own.
Even when hope seems to be yielding, it’s worth remembering the stories of parents like mine, who embody the resolute American spirit that hasn’t wavered since 1984, or 1862, 0r 1776.
Marlo Safi is currently a Collegiate Network Fellow at National Review.