First generation American guilt

By Ashourina Slewo

The American Dream is my blessing and my burden.


As a first generation American, the fight to achieve the American Dream is a constant one. My parents came to this country not long after they married in 1992. Es­caping persecution and looking for an opportunity to be more, they have been here for more than 20 years.

They never achieved the Ameri­can Dream, though.

My mother has worked harder than anyone I know, only to fall short of her own American Dream. In­stead, she worked tirelessly to make the American Dream attainable to me and my siblings. She struggled so we could have a shot at success. She passed her dream onto us.

So why do I feel guilty?

Because of a little thing called first generation American guilt.

Everything is about my family’s journey to America. It’s a story I proudly tell. But it’s the same story that keeps me feeling rigid on my path, scared to stray or make any mistakes that are sure to cheapen everything my mother has done to make this path a reality.

I can’t falter because somehow, it’s become my job to lift myself and my family away from this dark back­story and into a bright future. I can’t take this opportunity for granted so I have to succeed. I can’t just be smart. I can’t just graduate. I have to be the best. I have to make a name for my­self. All in the name of validating my mother’s journey.

A lot of pressure comes with be­ing the child of immigrants.

Everyone wants to make their parents proud. But when you are the child of immigrants, it all becomes a lot more urgent. You’re not just pass­ing your classes because you want to go to a respectable college, but be­cause your parents were forced to flee their home and never had the oppor­tunity to go to school. Because they left their home to give their unborn children the opportunity they knew they would never have.

Everything I do is to uplift my mother and use the opportunity she gave me to the fullest extent.

It’s a running joke in my family that when I walked across the stage at my commencement in 2017 that my mother should have waked the stage with me, gotten a degree with me. But it’s not a joke. It’s the truth. Her sacrifices are the reason I could even make it to class every single day and finally walk across the stage to receive my degree.

Those sacrifices are the reason I can’t slip up. If I do, I’m squan­dering the opportunity that she worked so hard to give me.

I get frustrated at times and start to wonder what it would be like if I was not first generation American. What if I was just like everybody else I grew up with and my parents had been born in the United States? I quickly squash those thoughts, though, because I have overcome way too much and worked too hard for this to bring me down. I’m proud of my story. But I can’t help it when the guilt eats away at me and make me feel as though every single one of my actions has to somehow pay hom­age to my mother’s sacrifices.

It’s my job to validate the risks my mother took and the challenges she faced so I could have a taste of the coveted American Dream. It’s a heavy burden, the American Dream.

Now, I’m not complaining about the opportunities I’ve been given or even having to make my mother proud – I appreciate them more than anyone will ever know. However, as a first generation American, everything you do slowly becomes about your parents and their sacrifices and less about your own individual journey.

Where in the book does it say that I have to sacrifice pieces of my­self to make my mother proud?

She’s certainly never said this was the case. She just wants me to be happy. But I can’t shake these thoughts that I have to do it for her. I want to do it for her, but I’ve allowed this guilt to cloud a lot of my own journey.

It’s hard to put these thoughts into words; it almost feels selfish to voice them (there’s that guilt I was talking about), but my fellow first-generation Americans will under­stand where I’m coming from.

Behind my closed doors

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” Philippians 4:13

I always had this vision growing up that I wanted to one day share my life with someone and have a family of my own. Little did I know how that vision would become shat­tered. I walked down the aisle young, not knowing much about what the future would hold as I prepared for what life would be like once I said “I do.” I believed I was marrying my best friend at the time.

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Away from home

For college students, it is always difficult go­ing back to school af­ter a long break. The quick transition from sleeping in one day to getting up early the next is a continuing struggle no matter how old we get. Even as a college sophomore, the struggle isn’t much easier. Not only do I have to get back into regular sleeping and study habits, I also have to leave my family and my home to begin a new semester at Michigan State University.

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Yella Bye!

“I’m not superstitious, but I am a little sti­tious.” – Michael Scott, The Office

The notion that black cats and broken mirrors bring bad luck are some of the most common super­stitions. Our community has its fair share of superstitious beliefs. You’ll find, how­ever, that like most things in our commu­nity, these superstitions are a bit exagger­ated and at times, laughable.

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Yella Bye!

I have so many funny memories of my grandparents and parents botching up the English language.

I am sure you do too.

My grandmother used to call my uncles at the store with her grocery list and I can still see her today pacing in her kitchen holding the yellow wall phone with a long curly cord looking through the refrigerator and pantry. “Maythee aye Cowboy. Translation: Bring home Pops cereal and keban 7. Translation: I want 7 Up.

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Update on the deportation litigation: Hamama v. Adducci

It’s been well over a year since Immi­gration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) rounded up more than two hundred Iraqi nationals—most in met­ro Detroit—seeking to deport them immediately to Iraq. In the time since, another 100-plus have been arrested as well. A team of lawyers—from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), CODE Legal Aid, the law firm Miller Canfield, the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, the Interna­tional Refugee Assistance Project and I—have been working hard to help ev­eryone arrested fight their immigration cases and get home out of detention. I’ll review what’s happened so far, and then talk about the next steps:

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The gift of a lifetime

As many of those in our com­munity, I grew up in a fam­ily that had a major focus on faith, love, and respect for one another. Throughout my life, my parents always reminded my siblings and me to lean on our faith and trust that God’s plan would be fulfilled in each of our lives if we cultivated and maintained a prayer life.

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Yella Bye!

Can we get all the Chaldean families with different spellings of their last name together and take a vote on one name? Seriously how do you print shirts at a family reunion when you have Shounia, Shunia Shonia, Shonea, Oh and let’s not forget Shuniya.

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One year's time

It’s baffling how much can happen in one year.

One year ago, when I encouraged my father to seek the help of an immigration attorney, I had no idea that exactly one week later he would be one of hundreds caught in raids by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). But he was.

This is not my first column about the deportation crisis and it probably won’t be the last.

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End the Unjust Detention of Chaldeans

Congressman John Moolenaar

Congressman John Moolenaar

For more than a year now, members of the Chaldean community in Michigan have been unjustly detained and threatened with deportation to a country where they could face violent persecution and death for their religious beliefs.

This process has upended families and done tremendous harm to a community of patriotic people who have made significant contributions to their adopted homeland.

I have been working with my colleagues in the Michigan congressional delegation and with Martin Manna, the leader of the Chaldean American Chamber of Commerce and the Chaldean Community Foundation, to resolve this issue.

Martin has been a tireless advocate and the Chaldean community could not ask for a better person to have on its side.

Martin and I have met with officials from the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the White House, and Congressional leadership.

We have not yet received the outcome we have worked toward but we will not give up.

On April 12, I introduced a bipartisan House resolution with other members of the Michigan delegation, calling for the Administration to end the detention of Chaldeans. It also calls on the Administration to use its executive authority and discretion to “defer deportation for Iraqi Chaldeans living in the United States.”

Ending the detention and threat of deportation would be consistent with federal policy because the federal government also recognizes that Christians are the victims of genocide in Iraq.

In the past few years, we have all seen the news reports documenting the dangerous conditions facing everyday citizens in Iraq. It would be even more difficult for returning Chaldeans, many of whom left the country with their parents as small children. They would have no homes or communities to return to upon arrival and worse yet, they could face the same violent persecution of religious minorities that has caused death and destruction throughout Iraq.

My colleagues and I recognize that the Administration cares deeply about the issue of religious liberty. We want the Administration to show its support for these faithful people of our state by ending the threat of deportation for those who peacefully live out their beliefs in the United States, safe from persecution.

Throughout America’s history, millions of people have come to this country seeking refuge from religious persecution. Freedom of religion is a First Amendment right, and while many of us may take it for granted, it is truly one of the freedoms that makes our country exceptional.

The Chaldean community in Michigan has made contributions to our state and our country. Chaldeans have raised families, started businesses, supported civic organizations and done so much to make a difference.

The Michigan delegation will continue to work with members of Congress from other states who share our belief in the importance of religious freedom. We are not giving up and we will keep fighting for the Chaldean community because no one deserves to be deported to a country where they could face violent persecution for their faith.

Congressman John Moolenaar, a Republican, represents Michigan’s Fourth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.


No real winner

Five months ago, when I wrote “The human side of deportation”, I didn’t think I would ever see my father in the flesh again. I was doing everything in my power to bring him home, but I had also mentally prepared myself to deal with a situation in which I could not save my father.

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On a Mission

This month, a group of missionaries will travel to Lebanon to give medical and spiritual aid to displaced Christians who have been forced to leave their homes due to wars and persecution. The team, led by Fr. Fadi Philip, a Chaldean Catholic priest and the pastor of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Warren, Michigan, will visit displaced families throughout the region to give them much needed medical and spiritual support. In addition to Fr. Fadi, the team includes five medical doctors: Ranin Paolus, M.D.; Maha Bishara, D.M.D.; Sara Alsakka, Michael Haddow, D.M.D.; and Rand Touma, M.D. who are part of the MERCI project. 

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Car Wash for the Soul

It’s been such a long winter in Michigan. So today when the high was 68 degrees and the sun finally came out to say hello, I went to the car wash. I was going to a Communal Penance Service at our parish and I had plenty of time ahead of me. As I drove into the car wash and the attendant guided me through the tracks, my mind went back to 16 years ago.

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