Reasons for Immigration
Of the 41 million immigrants in the US, over 200,000 are from Iraq. The major hubs for Iraqi immigrants are Detroit, Chicago, and San Diego. San Diego has a total immigrant population of 743,000. San Diego’s Iraqi community is situated in El Cajon which is located about 17 miles east of downtown.
War is the primary motivation for Iraqis to leave their homeland. Since 1979 when Saddam Hussein came to power, the country of Iraq has been war-torn. When the US led occupation began in 2003, many more Iraqis began to flee the country. The Iraqi military was disbanded by the US, and this left many men out of work. Desperate and angry at what they thought was going to be a liberation, people began to fight back. The number of insurgents swelled. Violence and kidnapping became a way of life. Women who had been free to go to school and work were forced back into their hijabs and under the watchful eyes of male relatives. People with money fear they or their loved ones will be kidnapped. This situation continues to grow ever more desperate as ISIS has been gaining control of lands in the north since 2014. According to BBC News, “ISIS grew out of what was al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was formed by Sunni militants after the US-led invasion in 2003 and became a major force in the country’s sectarian insurgency.” ISIS now controls the city of Mosul in northern Iraq and continues to try and advance towards Baghdad targeting ethnic and religious minorities along the way.
For Christians and Yazidis this persecution is not new. They have been targeted by fundamentalists for some time. In October 2010, a Catholic mass was attacked by suicide bombers leaving over 50 dead including the husband of Miramar College student May Khalaf. She had stayed at home that day because her baby son was sick. When I asked her who had done this her response was “the followers of Osama bin Laden; I think you call them ISIS.”
The hardships Iraqis experience in the US are largely related to learning a new language coupled with the fact that everything about the culture is different. Women, however, prefer it because they have regained their freedoms and do not have to rely on male supervision to go about their daily lives. Mina, a student at Miramar College who was 16 in 2003 and living in Baghdad when the bombs and destruction began, related that after two years of living in a reality where from minute to minute she wondered if she would survive, her dad moved her to Syria, then Egypt, and eventually to the US. Her father fled to London; her mother to Syria. I asked Mina what it is like to now live in the country that wreaked such havoc on her home. She answered by telling me her father’s wisdom, “You just have to forget it all, everything that has happened. Look ahead to a better life. You can have that in the US.”
Linguistic analysis between English and Arabic
Five languages are spoken in Iraq along with many dialects of these languages. Arabic and Kurdish are the official languages of the country, but Turkmen, Aramaic, and Persian (Farsi) are also spoken. Arabic consists of 28 letters and a number of signs. Some of the differences between Arabic and English that should be considered: Arabic is read from right to left; no capitals or italics are used; sentence structure consists of subject-object-verb or verb-subject; there are no short vowels or modal verbs; adjectives can be plural if the subject is plural; and “to be” in the present tense is not used.
Some sounds that are not phonemic in Arabic and therefore may cause some pronunciation difficulties: /p/, /g/, /v/, /tʃ/, /ʒ/, and /ŋ/.
Additionally, according to the Department of Linguistics at the University of Michigan, in Arabic “no more than two consonants may occur together in a cluster. Clusters never occur in initial position in a word. To prevent clusters of more than two consonants, an epenthetic vowel is inserted between two of the consonants.”
Iraq’s landmass is about the size of California with a similar population as well of 33.5 million people. Iraq is mostly hot and dry; it is situated at the same latitude as the southern United States. It has two seasons, summer and winter. It has four distinct regions: upland region in the north, highlands in the north/northeast, alluvial plains in the central and southeast, and deserts in the west and south which cover 2/5 of the country.
The two most common lush plants are licorice and the date palm!
The writing on the Iraqi flag says, “Allahu Akbar,” God is great (the greatest).
The flag has been redesigned seven times in the last 100 years. The 1991-2004 flag had Sadam Hussein’s handwriting for the “Allahu Akbar,” but after the regime change it was changed to Kufic script which originated in Iraq in Kufa and is used extensively for calligraphy of Qur’ans.