WASHINGTON – More than 100,000 Moroccan are installed at the United States. Far from their country,their families and their traditions,they crossed the Atlantic to look for a better life. They left everything behind them to live the American dream.
My first contact with the U.S. Moroccan community was at a lunch sponsored by the Moroccan Americans of the Greater Washington Area in Alexandria,Va.,just across the Potomac River.
For a moment,I really thought that I was in Morocco. The host welcomed the people with “salam alikoum.” It means “peace on you,” and is the way to say hello for Muslims,but it was also a way for the host to detect the Moroccans from the Americans.
Moroccan faces,American citizens
Some 250 people came from the four corners of the U.S. to meet each other,exchange experiences and share their nostalgia for Morocco. They came from different states and different perspectives. Their only common point was that they are Moroccan American.
Some knew each others from previous events; others met for the first time. But all tried to meet more people. As their name badges were not enough to present who they are,they introduced themselves to each person around the table: name,state,occupation,city of origin and especially the time they have spent in the U.S.
“I am proud and impressed by this amazing,big gathering,” said Aziz Mekouar,the ambassador of the Kingdom of Morocco in the U.S.
Tens of gathering like this are organized annually.
“Seminars,sportive tournaments,signatures of books,picnics … are the different activities that keep the whole Moroccan community joined together” said Hassan Khantach,who is in charge of consular businesses at the Moroccan embassy.
The meetings also help keep the Moroccan community informed about what is happening back home. At the luncheon,the ambassador gave a long speech on the latest developments and challenges in Morocco.
Far from the official speech and the national preoccupations,people tried to benefit from these moments to share their longing for the Sherifian Kingdom. It is the second name of Morocco because the royal dynasty descended from the prophet Muhammad.
They waited impatiently to visit with each other. But once the meal was served,the disappointment was clear on all the faces. Neither Moroccan food nor famous Moroccan mint tea was provided. This detail did not prevent them from enjoying the crusty chicken and the delicious ice cream cake.
Between two countries,two civilizations
There were students and those who work,men and women,singles and families – Moroccan people but from somewhere else.
Most of the adults were born in Morocco but their children were born here. It is a new generation born between two opposite societies,civilizations and ideologies. Young people are torn between a country of origin of which they know only the name and some stories told by their parents and a country of residence,which they see and feel as theirs. Lost in this double culture,the young Moroccan Americans are constantly researching their true identities. This existential trouble concerns all the emigrants' children wherever they are. But the reasons that pushed the parents to move abroad are stronger.
The first one is economic – people left to escape unemployment and poverty. They left to seek a better life. By coming to the U.S.A.,the emigrants aim to become richer. People also came to the U.S. to rejoin families already here. Those who won a green card,which makes them legal U.S. residents,through the U.S.-sponsored lottery then try to bring the rest of their families. Recently,professional reasons became important,too. Moroccan experts prefer to work in industrialized countries such as the U.S.,causing a brain drain in Morocco.
According to the Moroccan embassy,89 percent of Moroccans who work in the U.S. are in service sectors such as hotels and restaurants,construction and transportation. Just 5 percent work as managers in banks,property agencies or tourism companies. About 1.5 percent are contractors,and 0.5 percent are lawyers or doctors. Four percent are students.
Profile of a Moroccan American
Each one has his own story,his own past,his own life,but they all share the same bond.
Khalid Khartami,38,has lived in the U.S. for 13 years. A native of Casablanca,he got his degree in linguistics but left Morocco after signing a contract to work at Disneyworld in Orlando,Fla. Except for some problems with American slang,Khalid said he had no difficulty integrating into American society.
“I spent one year in Disney,then I came to D.C. to make my own business,” Khalid said.
Starting as an employee in a café,he is now the co-owner of Odéon,an Italian restaurant in the capital's trendy Dupont Circle neighborhood,and plans to open a Moroccan restaurant and nightclub in September.
Khalid abandoned his studies to earn money for seven family members back home.
“I studied information systems,but I stopped. I decided with another Moroccan friend to work hard to make more money. Then,we bought a restaurant,and everything is perfect now,” said Khalid.
“I came here knowing that my family in Morocco is waiting for me to support them financially,” Khalid said sadly.
Most Moroccan emigrants send money to their families. Khalid did more. He helped two of his brothers and two of his neighbors in Morocco immigrate to the U.S. and get jobs.
In his American car,he drove me to his home,a big house in a nice neighborhood in Virginia. The house is typically American,but some of its furniture and decoration is Moroccan. At the entrance,two names are written in Arabic with chalk – Yasmine,5,and Waleed,3,Khalid's children. Khalid got married 11 years ago. His wife Tina,33,is American. With her Moroccan traditional dress,she served the Moroccan mint tea and told about her marriage in both English and the Moroccan dialect,a combination of Arabic and French.
“We met in a nightclub,then we dated for 10 months and got married,a beautiful story of love,” Tina said.
Khalid,who tried to tease his wife,said that it was only for the green card. In fact,a lot of emigrants marry American women to obtain green cards or look for Moroccan women who are winners in the immigration lottery,then try to marry them.
This union between a Moroccan Muslim man and American Catholic woman has been accepted easily by both of the families,but Tina was a little anxious at the beginning.
“I was worried that my parents,who are Catholic,would refuse my marriage,so I got married without telling them. But after,they knew,and there was no problem,” said Tina,who works for Fannie Mae,a company that backs mortgages.
And Khalid added,“They organized a big marriage party for us,but without any alcohol in respect of my religion. I really appreciate it.”
The difference of the cultures seems not to influence the couple.
“We are still from different religions,but we have no problems,Tina fasts during Ramadan to show solidarity with me,” he said.
Moreover,Tina insists that the children learn Arabic and the rules of Islam.
“I think that it is very important to educate the children to understand the Moroccan culture,” Tina said. “I try to speak with them in Arabic,but I don't speak it fluently and their father is always at work. But I registered them in a school that offers courses in Arabic,French and Koran. It is a good thing.”
Khalid added,“We go to Morocco once a year. It helps the children to keep the contact with the family and to know better the Moroccan traditions.”
The religious feasts of Ramadan and Eid are also an occasion for all the Moroccan Americans to instill in their children the values of their traditions and customs.
“All the Moroccan community got together to share these moments in big celebrations. We also help and support each other,” Khalid said.
The mutual aid,the tolerance,the generosity are among many Moroccan values that the Moroccan Americans try to make known through each gathering. They also promote fellowship and harmony,not only among the Moroccan community but also among the American society.
Khalid says he thinks about moving back to Morocco. “I am thinking of it,but I have not decided yet,” he said.
For many Moroccans,the return to their country of origin is an idea,a project. The American dream that they are living can not let them to return to the reality.