Aida Rassam

Student and Photographer in Athens, Georgia

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My past experiences—witnessing the brutality of the war in Iraq, immigrating to the United States, and assimilating into a foreign culture—have given me a unique perspective that I have been fortunate to share with others. There have been many trials, but these difficulties have strengthened my resolve to contribute and participate as a citizen of the United States.

My identity as a Catholic Iraqi shatters many people's perceptions of an Iraqi. My identity is so farfetched that some insist I must have converted to Catholicism after arriving to the United States. This novelty is beneficial because the confusion allows me to explain a more balanced narrative of Iraq that of which many in the United States are not aware. Media outlets tend to dehumanize Arabs as malevolent Muslims. Experiencing that firsthand is rather painful, but this is also a blessing. The situation taught me what it means to be truly understanding and appreciative of other cultures, societies, and ideas. It gave me the gift of perspective. My identity as an Iraqi immigrant is a perpetual reminder of my fortune to live in such a prosperous country. It has also taught me how not to generalize based on race or ethnicity.

My experiences and identity will allow me to contribute to the developing opinions of Arabs within America. After the Paris terrorist attacks, hate crime attacks on Arabs and other brown-skinned individuals have tripled. Instead of being crippled by fear, I can teach my peers that we are not terrorists because of skin-color, religion, or nationality. It will be a validating experience as I find others who support me as an individual and not as a stereotypical caricature.