My memoir, THE STRANGERS WE BECAME, is about my personal experiences as a refugee, but it also speaks to the stranger in every one of us.
At the age of nine, my family was forced to leave our native Iraq. By the time I was 14, I had lived in five different countries.
What I have found is that the way I am perceived in new places – as THE stranger — has been consistent throughout my journey….and you know how a stranger makes you feel, right? Threatened, uneasy, perhaps invaded. (As if your environment is your very own, your property…..)
Cynthia as a baby in her mother’s arms, her father and three siblings in their home in Baghdad
In Holland I was called a BUITENLANDER! In Dutch it means not from this country. And of course the teenage years are tough to navigate, never mind that of a BUITENLANDER!!!
By talking about my “strangeness” — the struggles and humiliations I experienced after being uprooted from my native country — I hope to spread awareness of the humanity within every one of these “strangers.” I may help you see who We really are.
Because truly, when people hear relatable stories from “the other side” — stories told in a generous, vivid, and non-threatening way — they subconsciously (and sometimes consciously) experience a kind of equilibrium so that they don’t feel threatened. In turn, instead of resentment and fear, it may evoke compassion.
And to bring it closer to home. If not you and your personal exile, how about your parents’ or grandparents’ exile that was never told? The silent strangers that silenced your family’s roots and heritage? After all, we all have traveled to America from afar … now let’s acknowledge who we are and retell the stories of perhaps just a generation or two ago so we can relate to the stranger within each of us. It is THIS country that welcomed so many refugees like me and strung our histories together in the beautiful tapestry that is the USA.