Insight on Immigration

The stories of three students and their experience with immigration


Riley Wania

Junior Reena Barghchoun poses in a traditional Lebanese wrap holding a figurine of a cedar tree, the symbol of Lebanon. These items allow Barghchoun and her mother, Sahar Arnaout keep the memory of Lebanon alive in their home.

Tea Perez, Editor-in-Chief

Junior Reena Barghchoun sits with her mother Sahar Arnaout as she listens to her stories of life back in Lebanon years ago. She listens to her talk of her childhood, in awe that the resilient woman who sits before her now was once a young girl like herself. Mrs. Arnaout’s childhood was like any other, she went to school, she spent time with friends and family, and life went on. Yet while her life continued, so did the Civil War in Lebanon.

“[My childhood] was pretty good because I didn’t know any better. We had the civil war going on in Lebanon for a long time, like most of my childhood… but that doesn’t mean that it was a horrible childhood,” Mrs. Arnaoutsaid. “We knew there was a war, we knew we had to take cover when there were bombings, we knew things were unstable, but it’s amazing how people can adjust.”

As someone whose parents have immigrated, Barghchoun’s knowledge of life in Lebanon comes mostly from her parents. Her parents immigrated in the 1990s, they came in search of brighter opportunities for themselves and their future children.

“[My parents] wanted a better opportunity,” Barghchoun said. “My mom especially, she wanted to be a CRNA [certified registered nurse anesthetist]… they knew that if they had kids that they would be better off bringing them up [in the United States].”

Their life in Lebanon wasn’t always easy, as the country has dealt with instability for years.

“At some points in [Lebanon’s history the country] was kind of unstable,” Barghchoun said. “[Sometimes] there isn’t electricity, or there isn’t freshwater… it’s even worse than it was before and [looking] from back then to now it’s just gotten progressively worse.”

It’s the stability the United States offered that was so appealing to Mrs. Arnaout.

“[Stability] is I think the first thing that, when you come overseas to the States, that you appreciate,” Mrs. Arnaout said. “I feel like people who never lived in a
war take things for granted, like as simple as being in a stable environment that you don’t have to worry about… I don’t take for granted anything that’s given to me here because you appreciate it, you look at it in a different angle with a different eye.”

Growing up in a country during a time of war leaves many with painful memories of that violence.

“The war has a big chunk of my memories. [Such as] when we used to hide in basements in the bombings or run down the streets just hoping no snipers will take a shot at us,” Mrs. Arnaout said. “But I have to say, even as horrific as these [memories] are, when we think about them we don’t think about them that way. Honestly, we weren’t that scared because we got used to hearing the bombing as bad as that is.”

Yet, for Mrs. Arnaout her memories of war never overtake her fonder memories of life in Lebanon.

“I remember some of my best friends that I lived with my whole childhood, just this silly stuff that we used to do The simple joys that we used to get from just going out and walking on the beach or just going somewhere to eat, it’s just simple things,” Mrs. Arnaout said. “These are the snapshots that I have in my head… [my main focus] if it’s not on the war, [is on] my friends and the things that we did, we tried to live our lives as normal as we could.”

The many opportunities offered in the United States are some of the largest pull factors of immigration here. For senior Santiago Machado, it was the educational opportunities that convinced him to immigrate.

Machado’s mother remarried and moved to the United States from Argentina, Machado being ten years old at the time had to make the decision of if he wanted to move with his mother or stay in Argentina with his father. Being so young he was excited to see the America that’s displayed in movies and TV shows.

“[When I found out I could move to the United States] I was like ‘Ooh, I get to see everything like [in] the movies, like lunch cafeterias… I’m going to have a locker too,’ and that was just crazy to me,” Machado said.

As exciting as the stereotypical high school facilities were, Machado was also looking forward to the education he would receive.

“The process of going through middle school, high school, and then college [isn’t how they] do that in Argentina… most kids just have to move up north because there are no colleges where I used to live,” Machado said. “I wanted to go to Spain for college, and

I still want to do it today, so I have more of a chance now than I did in Argentina.”

Argentina is facing problems with its currency and inflation, which is another reason Machado’s mother decided to move.

“99 pesos is equal to one dollar, so nothing is really worth anything, you can’t buy property, you can’t advance as a person there,” Machado said.

However, the good is what Machado remembers and misses most about Argentina.

“Music [gets] really big. We have the genre Tango, it’s a partner dance and it just consists of classic instruments like drums, guitars… and bongos. You just dance around… you usually dance on Christmas or just any festive [day],” Machado said. “The culture [is what I miss about living in Argentina].”

While many people come to the United States in search of better opportunities, some leave the United States for that exact same reason. Senior Avery Olsen’s family moved to Lithuania when she was three years old after her dad got a job there. She spent five years of her childhood engrossed in Lithuanian culture which she still remembers vividly to this day.

“I remember the language, I remember the town that I lived in. We lived in the capital city of Vilnius. It’s completely different [than the United States]. We lived in a flat because only incredibly wealthy people had one-person houses, you lived in an apartment or you lived in a multi- use complex,” Olsen said. “I went to Montessori School … none of the teachers spoke English. I did, but I had to learn Lithuanian … I was fluent in Lithuanian by the time that we left, but I don’t remember anything now.”

One such reason culture was so wildly different from American culture is the major religion followed in Lithuania.

“Culture was way different there because [their religion is] primarily Russian Orthodox with a lot of pagan traditions and a lot of pagan holidays,” Olsen said.

Taking part in these pagan traditions was one of Olsen’s favorite parts of living in Lithuania.

“In the winter, around the Spring Equinox, we had this aday where we would go outside and chant around a giant scarecrow that was dressed in heavy coats and scarves and hats. We would all hold hands and run around the Scarecrow… we would chant and we would do rituals for winter to go away,” Olsen said. “I think that is something that I really miss, all the fun little pagan traditions.”

Having lived part of her childhood in such a different environment has allowed Olsen to see the world as a much larger place than what others may think.

“I celebrate [having lived in Lithuania] as a unique part of myself [knowing] that I have Lithuanian culture with me and I have that globalized experience… it has opened my eyes [because] I’ve seen first hand that there’s no one right way to do things and the world is a far bigger and faster place than it seems when you’re just in the United States alone,” Olsen said.