I Am Here Because Of Blind Dumb Luck
An immigration story
“Where are you from?”
It’s a question leveled at me often, and one that I tend to find annoying because it’s asked in such an awkward and ambiguous manner. For example, on the first day at an internship, my cubicle neighbor came up to introduce herself. She was a white middle-aged woman, and she looked at my nameplate and slowly formed a question: “Yassine… that’s an interesting name. Do you… happen… to know… what your… cultural… heritage is?”
I had to laugh at how stilted her language was, but I knew what she was getting at. She saw my name (or my swarthy complexion, or both) and wanted to know my origin story, which is cool. Usually for this type of vague question, I play dumb and say something like “Virginia” just to see the asker’s look of exasperation. But I can give straight answers if I’m feeling earnest or if they ask more directly. Where am I from? No, really, Virginia. Where am I from before that? Ah, well, I was born in Morocco if that’s what you’re asking. How did I get here from Morocco? I won a lottery.
Seriously. The only reason I live in the United States is because I won a lottery.
Morocco is in North Africa, one side of the entryway to the Mediterranean basin, and separated from Europe by a mere seven miles of water. Morocco’s peculiar geographic positioning is reflected in its endless layering of historical strata — it has served as an ancient frontier of the Roman Empire, stepladder for the Islamic conquest of Iberia, and a French and Spanish colony.
Morocco is where I was born and where I spent my formative years.
Sitting at the cultural crossroads among so many big players, we had our fill of media to consume, but all of it struggled to compete against the overwhelming juggernaut of American Cool. Disney characters were everywhere (the colloquial word for cartoons in Arabic is Mickey-yat), and I read through Le Journal de Mickey and other comics every week. We were all obsessed with Michael Jackson, of course, and the only music out of Europe we listened to were techno groups like Snap! and the rest of the German/Belgian scene — bands that donned thoroughly convincing American cosplay. Our elders tried to encourage us to watch the respectable oeuvre of the Egyptian silver screen, but how can any of that compete with the adrenaline injection that is Terminator 2? It was surreal to think a single country, far across the horizon, could be the source of all this.
Although the average income in Morocco is about a tenth that of the U.S., my family was fairly well off by home standards. Both my parents went to college (unlike any of my grandparents), and both were able to study English abroad as they went on to attain graduate degrees. They were rewarded with cushy teaching jobs and full summers off.