Suehaila Amen is the Coordinator of International Admissions at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.
The first time I went to Lebanon it was 1992, I was 14, and the country was still in a state of war. I screamed and cried the whole way there. My dad wanted to throw me off the plane.
I stopped crying an hour before we arrived. The minute I set foot on Lebanese soil, I started to cry again.
My dad swore, godammit, you just cried for 12 hours! But I told him that wasn’t why I was crying. I felt like I was home.
I was born and raised here. My great-grandfather came here in 1902, my great-grandmother on my dad’s side was born here in the late 1800s. My family has been here forever, but I still don’t feel like I belong here.
Unfortunately, with the rise of Islamophobia, the discrimination toward Arabs and Muslims, I feel even more distant. I mean, my allegiance is to this country. But I can’t say that it quite feels like home.
Whereas when I’m in Lebanon with all of its chaos and dysfunction sometimes, I feel as if I’m home. I feel like I belong there. People are accepting. I don’t have to look over my shoulder when I’m walking, I don’t hear hateful comments based on my appearance. I’m not profiled in my travels. It’s as if the country embraced me from the first moment I saw it.
Sometimes every day feels like a struggle here: the struggle to maintain my patience, my sanity. I’ve gotten to the point that I don’t even like to read the news.
Where is my place here? Will I ever truly be looked at as an American without someone placing a label on me?
I always laugh and say they took a village in South Lebanon, 1989, and dropped them here in Dearborn. They still live as if it’s 1989. The village has progressed more than Dearborn!
Society has changed, it’s not like what it was in the ‘80s when we were more primed for marriage. We’ve worked very hard over the last 20 years to push education and higher education, and to ensure that our children are being given the opportunities that they deserve.
Not just by universities and companies but by their families, so that their families weren't robbing them of opportunities to be successful and to grow.
Probably our biggest battle in the last 10 years was to get parents to allow their children to go away to school. We went from having one student go to Harvard to having seven because that one girl went and she came from a very conservative family. We told her family, “She opened the door. Thank you.” We made her mother an advocate for sending your kids to Harvard.
People say they can’t send their kids away. But, you raise your child with a quality foundation. You know the values that you've instilled in them. You shouldn't be afraid to send them away. It doesn’t mean that you’re going to lose them.
This is the Boogie Man in Dearborn: if I open the door a little bit and give them some freedom, I’m going to lose my child to America.
My whole family is involved with service work so that was always important to me. I’m single, so people ask me, “Don’t you want to get married?”
I laugh and tell them I married my community!
Because being 37 and single is like being 85 in Arab years. They look at you as if you have a third eye. They tell me, “Well…it’s okay. You do good work.”
I get a lot of questions from young girls. I tell them—both boys and girls—don’t ever lower your standards. I’ve learned my value and worth. It’s not worth it to marry someone just to get married.
God does not want you to be miserable. Allah doesn’t ask you to find a husband just to find a husband, or a wife just to find a wife. It’s a partnership, you're looking for a companion. Somebody to live with, enjoy life with—a quality human being.
If I’m not going to meet a quality individual, why am I going to add a headache to my life that I don’t have? If you’re not going to contribute to making me a better human being, a better Muslim, a better woman, then why am I going to waste my time when I’m a quality human being as a whole?
They tell me they want to see me happy.
What makes them think I’m not happy?
I know everybody loves Jerry McGuire and “you complete me.” It doesn't exist. You are a complete human being. Another person is not going to complete you.