“The Challenge of Immigration, the Challenge of People” story transcript
Phillip Alghazawi: If you could, just state your name, how old you are…
Evan Elias: Yeah, so, my name is Evan Elias. I am 27 years-old right now. We came to the state about 13-14 years ago. So, my parents, my whole family were born in Baghdad, and then we moved out because of some issues we had to live there – we couldn’t live there. We came, we left Iraq, and – back right after the war, in 2003 or 2002, I don’t really remember what year that was.
PA: So, that was like the main…
EE: The main reason after that, yeah.
EE: Because some people were being kicked out, and apparently we were one of those families that… we had to leave. So, went to Turkey, then from there we went to Greece, and then we had to go back to Turkey again, and we applied for – to come to the States – because my dad and my mom, they used to live here before me and my sisters.
EE: So, basically my older sister got to America in 2000, and she got married. So, my sister – my oldest sister – she got my dad and my mom to the States here, ’cause they were her parents. So, at the time, she could’ve got them here, so she brought my parents here.
EE: And then, we went, like I said, and then after that, we left. It was me and my brother, and my sister-in-law, and two sisters – that’s when we went to Turkey, Greece, back to Turkey again. And then we, from Turkey, we got accepted to come to the States because of my – you know, we were younger…
PA: Mm hmm.
EE: So we got accepted because of that, and my parents were here. So, from there, we flew – we stayed in Turkey about a year…
Pa: Do you remember how old you were?
EE: If I’m 27 right now… I was about 14.
Pa: Fourteen when you were granted …?
EE: Yeah. So, we came over here. We flew from Turkey to Germany. We stayed there for a couple of hours. From Germany, we took this straight flight all the way to Chicago – about 14 hours – and then from Chicago to Michigan. And then, yeah, then we came over here, and, you know, everything was legit. We did our papers after, I think after a year we got the green card, and then after five years – when you first come here, you get an ID, you get a social security card, and then, after a year, you are able to jump to a green card and apply for one, and if you don’t have a problem, you always get accepted. And then, after five years, that’s when you apply for your citizenship, and my whole family’s a citizen right now. My sisters, me, my brother, my dad, my mom – my whole family, pretty much, got citizen[ship], and then…
PA: How would you explain the process – going through that process – like, so young? What was it like for you?
EE: Honestly, for me, it was like, I didn’t really have any problems because I’ve always wanted to learn more, and just, you know, I was always that kid that never feared anything.
PA: Mm hmm.
EE: You know, some people – like my brother – is [sic!] totally the opposite way. He’s like, always like, insecure, you know, doesn’t want to talk to people, like even his language is not all that, because he’s like, he was always that kid, you know? He doesn’t want to talk to people, he’s like always, kind of liked to stay away from people. I was the other way around, you know, I used to like to go out, make friends. So for me, it wasn’t really hard, even when I went and applied for the citizenship, you know – the citizenship’s about 100 questions. If you pass the first 10 – they ask 15 – if you pass the first 10 questions, you automatically get passed on that, and then the next test, in the same day, will be reading and writing. And I passed the first 10 questions, and they didn’t even bother. They were just asking me if I can write, you know, my name and that stuff, just to make sure that he can read and write. And yeah, that was it. You know, I got my citizenship, and I moved on to the next thing, so…
PA: Rock on, man. That’s awesome. So, what was schooling like for you?
EE: School was kind of hard.
PA: Not hard?
EE: I said school was kind of hard.
PA: So, what grade were you in?
EE: Well, when I got here, I missed the first year. So, my second year, when I was here, in the States, it was like almost a year. It wasn’t like, you know… because we got here, like, the school was already started.
PA: Mm hmm.
EE: We got here, like in, I think November or December – some time like that. So, I couldn’t really get back in school, so I had to wait for the whole new year…
EE: … to get in high school. But, at the same time, I used to take some English classes on the side.
PA: Oh, okay.
EE: There was [sic!] a lot of schools over here that can, like, they actually – you don’t see people my age, like 14-15, you see the older, older people, the older ones. They just, you know, they pretty much teach you how to read and write and all that. So, I waited about 9-10 months to get back to school, and then they put me in freshman, so ninth grade.
PA: So, that was your first ever experience, it was your freshman year?
EE: That was my first ever experience, freshman year. So I went from freshman, to sophomore, and then, that was, like, I was almost 18 and my… you know, my credit wasn’t that good in school, so I had to really drop out and get back to work and just to help out my family.
EE: Yeah. School, the first year, was hard for me because of the language. You know, a lot of people, there’s always people that make fun of you, there’s always people that will support you, it’s always everywhere you go. I had more people that were making fun of me, at the same time, I had more people that really tried to support me, and, you know, go through everything.
But, like I said, I was always that kid that likes to jump in in every conversation, every situation. I was never, you know – even though I knew there was gonna be people making fun of me, but I didn’t really care. That was the first year. The second year got much better when I was sophomore. I made a lot of new friends, and the whole time, during summer break, I worked with my brother at a dealership on Seven Mile. So, I was always…
PA: Was that your first job?
EE: That was my first job ever. So, my first job, I was cleaning cars. That was my first job. I was a detail man at a dealership on Seven Mile. And then, yeah… and then I went back to school to finish my sophomore. I actually did much better that year. And then after that, I was like almost 18 years-old, I really had to drop out to help out my family because, you know, it’s lot of money, you know, to live here, like, you know, cost of living. And, I was always that kid that didn’t want to ask my family for money, so they didn’t force me to drop out or anything like that, I just, I wasn’t that guy that was made for school, you know? I didn’t really like being there, even though the school was awesome, you know, the people were awesome and everything, but I was always like a guy that wants to do, like wants to learn something. I was always like a work person more than a school person.
PA: Yeah, I got you, yeah. So, what would you say, like, was the hardest part about adapting to the U.S. culture?
EE: The hardest part for me is, actually… I couldn’t tell you. There’s a lot of hard things, a lot of good things in this country, but I feel like the hardest thing for me was to get used to people, because people here are totally different than any other world that I’ve seen, you know?
PA: Mm hmm.
EE: Everything is different over here. Like I said, I didn’t really have a hard time getting, being, like, one of these people. Like I can – like right now, you put me in a white culture, I can be very American, you know? You put me in – anything – I can always be that person. But, the hardest thing for me over here was to get used to the people, because people are just so different over here.
EE: I’m talking about back in the days, like back four, five years ago when I first came in. I didn’t really – until I worked – and then I started to, like, travel, driving, you know… I’ve been doing this job for seven years, so my job is, literally, drive all day, go to different locations, meet people, talk to people… and that really made me the person that’s more open-minded to learn more and to learn about this culture. That was the hardest thing for me, honestly. Nothing was really hard over here. I mean, everything was easier, you know? … Yeah, that was it, honestly. That was, in my opinion, that was the hardest thing for me that I had to get used to, was, like, the people, you know? Nothing against anybody, it’s just like, you know?
PA: Oh yeah.
EE: It’s hard to go to a different country and, like, me getting used to the people was actually harder than speaking the actual language.
EE: Yeah, that was very hard for me.
EE: Yeah. Like I’m not saying the people were mean to me or anything like that, it’s just like, it was hard for me to… even, like, when we went to Turkey or Greece, it was the same thing. It’s hard to get used to people.
PA: Yeah, yeah.
EE: Because [unintelligible] it’s, like, a totally different world, dude. Like, you come from Iraq to America, it’s like, wow, man, like, that’s different, you know?
PA: Oh yeah.
EE: You know, so…
PA: So, I guess, I… One of my next questions were, like, what weren’t you ready for when you came here? So… So, like, were you not ready for, just the amount of people that you would see, or just, like, how interactions went?
EE: I could say I wasn’t ready for some of the sh*t that people gave me. Like I said, I met a lot of rude people. There’s… living here is like, there’s literally two different people [sic!], dude. There’s two types of people. There’s people that will know the reason why you’re here, and they will, you know, respect you for, you’re not here to hurt anybody, you’re just here to be safe – you and your family. There’s the other type of people that are just racist to you because you’re not from that culture, so…
EE: Yeah, that was… I wasn’t ready for that, the second part of what I said. I never thought that I could see that here in America. I met a lot of those people. But, at the same time, there’s great people, and that’s in every culture. Even when I was in Turkey, I had the same problem. Even when we went to Greece, we had the same problem. There’s always people who will think that you’re there to destroy that place, or there is people that, they think that you’re there because you’re just trying to be safe and why you’re there, you know?
EE: So, there’s always those two types of people. But, that was the hardest thing for me, like I said, to get used to, and that I wasn’t ready for. Like I just, you know, the older I got I started learning more, like, okay, you know, there’s always these two types of people. People are gonna like you, people gonna, you know, people gonna hate you, so…
PA: What influenced you to come to Michigan?
EE: What made me come over here?
EE: My whole family’s here.
PA: Okay, your family was here in Michigan?
EE: My whole family’s here.
EE: Like, my cousins, my parents were here, my sister… so, yeah.
PA: So, I guess… was it hard to find any other, I guess, find people from your country when you first came here?
EE: It wasn’t hard at all. Like, when I went to school, there were so many people from Iraq, from – the Chaldean people – and, I don’t know if you know this, but Michigan has the most amount of Chaldeans in America.
PA: Mm hmm, oh yeah.
EE: So there’s, I think the last time I read something about it, we had over, close to one mil’, or one mil’ and a half – one million and a half – Chaldeans in Michigan.
EE: That’s a lot. That’s a big culture.
Evan: So, that wasn’t hard for me at all, especially in the school that I went to. It was like, in the heart of Chaldean, you know, city. I went to Sterling Heights.
PA: What was, I guess, what were the first couple of thoughts that ran through your mind as soon as you touched down in Chicago? Like, coming out of the airport, what were just some of the things…
EE: Honestly, I was super happy, bro’. I was just super happy to be here. Like I said, it wasn’t easy for us to be in America. And, at the time, it’s not easy. Like, a lot of people don’t really understand what it takes to get here. And, if you’ve been through it – I’ve been through it, I know what it feels like, you know? This country’s, like, a dream country for almost everybody on this planet, you know? Everybody wants to live here, everybody wants to come to America.
When we first landed in Chicago, honestly, dude, I was very happy. I was happy because we had a long flight, you know, 14-hour flight, and I… the last, like, couple of weeks of living in Turkey, I just wanted to get out of there because we were getting so much sh*t from people. People there are like nightmares. So, we just wanted to leave, so, when we landed here, we were like, “Oh, wow,” you know? Like, “We’re a couple of hours away from home.” From there, we stayed at the airport for exactly 45 minutes, and we flew from there to Michigan – yeah.
PA: Would you say that it’s nice to have a little taste of home, like, with… in Dearborn, you know what I mean? So, you got a little taste of back home, of the Arabic culture? Would you say that that’s a… would you say that’s a good thing?
EE: It’s always a good thing to see your people, you know? And what I even like more is when I see people, when I see my people from, like, from Iraq or from any culture from Middle East. I like seeing those people, but at the same time, I like seeing those people respecting this place. Because, if you live in this place, you gotta respect it – in my opinion, you know, anywhere you go. If we go the other way around – if the Americans would come to Iraq – we would want them to respect the country. So, for me, it’s the same thing. I like seeing my culture. I like seeing my people. But, at the same time, I like when I see my people respect a place and respect where they’re at, you know?
A lot of people don’t respect that, and, in my opinion, I don’t like that, you know? I’ve learned this when I was a kid, and that’s something my dad taught me. He said, “Anywhere you go in this world, you gotta respect that place, even if you don’t like it. Don’t show them that you don’t like it. You just gotta respect it because that’s where you’re living. And if you want to be peaceful, if you want to be a good person, if you want to just be the man of the people – which means, like, if you want to be that person that everybody likes you – respect that place. Respect that culture, even if you’re different. You gotta respect them, just like how they respect you.”
So, yeah, it’s nice to see my people here, you know?
PA: Those are very good words to live by.
PA: Very good words.
EE: I appreciate it, thank you.
PA: Is there anything else you’d like to say about what it was like coming here – the process, that maybe anybody else coming into the country…?
EE: The process wasn’t easy, dude. The process was not easy at all. Coming over here… and if I was 27 years-old, like I am right now, but still there, and going through that process, I don’t think I can handle it. I don’t think I can handle the stress, the amount of pressure they put you under – because it was like an interview to come over here. There’s like three different interviews, so you, pretty much, when I was in Turkey, when we applied for the U.N., to come to the States, you have… they call you three times. And every time, it’s an interview, you know, why you want to go there, why this and that. And, every interview was about an hour, and you’re talking about – you talk to people, or professionals, and that’s all they do for a living. So, first things first, you can’t lie, cause those people will know that you’re lying.
That was a lot of pressure, like, a lot of people were like b***s***ing, “Oh yeah, you know, they were threatening us,” this and that. And our story was like, “Listen, this is what happened. We can’t live there anymore. My parents are there. My sister is there. We want to live in the States. That’s just one of our biggest goals.” So, it’s a lot of pressure.
The process was very hard. It took us about a year to go through those three different interviews. And then, after we got accepted, it got even harder, because you gotta travel to go get your, like… they test you for, like, drugs and all that stuff. And, like I said, the process wasn’t hard for me at the time. It was hard for like, an older people, but I was younger, so my stress level was, like, lower than now.
EE: Yeah, so…
PA: You were just kinda being led through the whole process.
EE: Exactly, I didn’t really care about, like, how hard it was. But now, thinking back, like, since I’m talking to you right now, I’m thinking back, you know, it’s just, like, the feeling that took me back to those years… it was kinda hard, man. It was very hard, you know?
EE: It wasn’t easy for a lot of people. It was a lot of stress, you know, you’re living there. You don’t know if you’re gonna be accepted or not. If you’re not accepted, then you had to apply for the Australian U.N., which is about five years of process. So, the U.N. was – the American one – was about a year, about a year to two years tops, and they will tell you if you are accepted or not. If you want to go to Australia, it was about five years, and Canada was about eight years.
EE: So, imagine the amount of that stress that you’re gonna be under… You’re thinking, “What if I don’t get accepted? What’s going to happen next?” And then, the longer you live there, you know…
EE: … The s***ier your life is going to be, ’cause, you know, apparently those people just don’t like you to be there.
PA: Mm hmm.
EE: You know, a lot of people think being here is worse – go to different countries.
EE: It’s way worse than here. So, that was the biggest, like, stress that we were going through. Other than that, the process wasn’t, you know, I mean, it is what it is, you know. It takes a lot to get here, so I totally understand, and I know why they do that. They do that to be safe – to bring good people here, so.
PA: My closing question would be, if you could change anything about getting a U.S. citizenship, for today, how would you change it, or what would you like to see changed?
EE: That’s a good question. [Laughs.] I couldn’t tell you, honestly, dude. I mean, the getting the test wasn’t really difficult because it’s pretty much… So, what they want you to do is, pretty much, if you live here, you have to learn about this country, you know? And those hundred questions, they weren’t personal questions or anything like that, they were about the country.
So, in my opinion – I know some people are probably gonna hate me for saying this – I like how strict those things are, because, you know, they just want you to get better. So, the harder the better, you know? The harder to get a driver’s license, they’re better because they want you to learn how to drive. They don’t just want to hand you the driver’s license and go on the road and have a nice day. Then, there will be so much danger on the road, you know?
PA: Oh, yeah.
EE: So, like I said, if I could change anything, I don’t think I would change anything. ‘Cause, like I said, it wasn’t hard. It’s just a test that you can have the book and – I had that book for a year. You know, I was reading the book every day. So, by the time I went to get my test, everything was, like, in my brain. Like everything was – all these questions were, like, in my brain. So, like, for me, it wasn’t really hard. For a lot of people, the older people, they might see a difficulty, cause you know, it’s hard for them to read and write.
EE: For me, it wasn’t that difficult. So, I would not change anything, honestly, you know, it’s just my opinion, so…
PA: Alright. Well, Evan, thank you very much for your time, man.
EE: Thank you, brother, no problem.
PA: Thank you very much.
EE: Absolutely, man.