LSA junior Fadi Dawood – one of about 90,000 Iraqi-born people living in the United States – has fond memories of his homeland.
He still remembers the starry nights of his childhood in Iraq.
He still remembers the mild fall days watching palm trees and mountains race by the window of his car on his way to school.
He still remembers starting grade school each day with a pledge of allegiance to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
For the first six years of his life, Dawood lived in Baqubah, a small city just outside Baghdad. The city is in Iraq’s Sunni Triangle, a region that has become a hotbed for insurgent forces.
Dawood, a Christian, and his family left Iraq because they felt threatened by the religious intolerance of many in Iraq.
“We faced ridicule on the streets,” he said. “My family came to the U.S. to leave that area where it was so hard to advance and seek religious freedom.”
Dawood and his family are Chaldean, a sect of Christianity and a distinct ethnic group with roots in Iraq. Although Hussein was responsible for many atrocities, he was fairly tolerant of the Chaldean population in Iraq, Dawood said.
“Saddam Hussein was a dictator similar to Stalin because he wanted a secular state,” Dawood said. “He didn’t favor any sort of religion and he knew that the Christians didn’t pose a threat to him. So, he in a sense protected Christians.”
About 15 years ago, the Dawoods joined other members of their family in Detroit.
Dawood’s family chose the Detroit area because of its large Lebanese population and what was then a thriving automobile industry, he said.
Making a living in America proved difficult, though, Dawood said.
“In Iraq, one person can support the whole family,” he said. “But here, you all have to work. My sisters had to work and pay their way through higher education.”
Dawood and his family now live in Southfield, where his father owns a restaurant.
While Dawood’s family has become successful in America, he said he often thinks of the plight of the Iraqi people. Many politicians don’t understand the impact the war has had on the everyday lives of Iraqis, he said.
“It seems as if our government did not consider what goes beyond war,” Dawood said.
Dawood said he is torn between his identity as an American and as an Iraqi.
“It is heartbreaking to see so many American soldiers dying,” he said.
LSA sophomore Dina Al-Joburi’s family fled Iraq in 1980, several years before she was born.
Her uncle, who had been the vice president of Iraq before Hussein came to power, was executed for his opposition to Hussein’s regime.
“My father was also politically active in the Baath party before Saddam came to power,” Al-Joburi said. “It was wise for him to leave.”
Most of her family still lives in Iraq.
“It’s chaos there,” Al-Joburi said. “When I talk to my aunt on the phone, I hear gunshots. It’s like being under house arrest. Sometimes my family runs out of food, but they can’t get any more because they are too afraid to leave the house.”
The rest of her family has lost its hope of immigrating to the United States.
“For understandable reasons, the U.S. doesn’t want to let Iraqis in,” Al-Joburi said. “The war made it so much harder – it’s almost like there’s no point in trying.”
Doing their part
Dawood, president of the Chaldean Student Association, and Al-Joburi, president of the Iraqi Student Association, said they hope to improve the condition of the Iraqi people.
The two associations hosted an event called “A Night in Babylon” this past December, complete with ethnic food, dancing and skits. The charity event raised money for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, an organization that has paid for several Iraqi children to come to the U.S. and receive medical treatment at the University hospital.
“One child that the PCRF helped lost his leg because of a roadside bomb,” Al-Joburi said. “Another had his intestines blown out.”
The Palestine Children’s Relief Fund aims to treat Middle Eastern children who need specialized surgery that’s not available in their home countries.
“We’re given the names of children who need treatment by fieldworkers or soldiers,” said Mike Lowe, an administrative assistant for the group. “The kids can stay in the American hospitals as long as they need to.”
Dawood and Al-Joburi said they think the event was a good way to encourage organizations to help more children in the future.
“We have come together for a common theme of service to our people in our homeland and in America,” Dawood said.