By: Nadia Abuelezam
We hear from a storymaster in Episode #14: The Azzams, Home on Mt. Carmel, Hani T. Azzam. Amo Hani is an engineer, son, husband, father, and grandfather. We hear about all of these roles and more as he describes his childhood home in Haifa Palestine, the escape to Lebanon, and his immigration to the United States to study at the University of Bridgeport.
A photo of the Azzam family taken in Haifa with a British soldier named Busty (back center).
As a refugee and immigrant in the United States, Amo Hani experienced a great deal of discrimination during his first few years in the United States. In the episode, we hear how Amo Hani had difficulty finding a seat in the cafeteria and resorting to sitting outside on the stoop to drink his coffee. During our conversation, he shared many more stories and instances where he was directly attacked or even refused service because of his racial and ethnic identity. In one story Amo Hani was refused service at a bar in Hollywood, California. Not wanting to disrupt the situation, Amo Hani wanted to walk out and leave, but his fraternity brothers insisted that he be served and even started a bar fight to make sure that would happen. In the classroom, Amo Hani was the “token Palestinian,” having to answer and argue politics to professors and students alike.
One of the saving graces of Amo Hani’s time at the University of Bridgeport was the Irish fraternity that he joined: Alpha, Delta, Omega. Amo Hani pledged into and became president (yes - a Palestinian president of an Irish fraternity in the United States). He speaks about his fraternity brothers with a great deal of respect and also humor. Joining the fraternity seemed to be the turning point in Amo Hani’s experience in America, as it gave him the confidence and the support he needed to speak out and represent himself as a Palestinian.
A yearbook snapshot of the members of the Alpha Delta Omega fraternity. Amo Hani is center front row.
As the political conversation turns a critical eye to immigrants and refugees from Arab and Muslim countries, it is important to share our stories of struggle and discrimination in America. While the United States has provided many of us with a safe home that we love and cherish, as Palestinians we may still experience micro-aggressions and other instances of discrimination in our daily lives. Sometimes it is difficult to share these stories for fear of judgement, but these stories may help those new to the United States understand that they are not alone. These stories may also better frame the conversation around refugees and immigrants in the United States and help develop better support systems for those who are new to the country. While Amo Hani has certainly excelled and thrived here in the United States (sometimes with the support of his Irish fraternity brothers), his first few years provide a difficult testimony to what it could be like to be a new immigrant.