As he sits in his natural habitat: a room covered with video games, pizza boxes, and empty pepsi bottles, the young Palestinian appears to be just like any other college student. But, Firas al Dweik’s rough past and current struggle for citizenship involves experiences which many Americans will never have to deal with in their life time.
A junior at Pacific Lutheran University, Dweik is enrolled in the international student program and came to the US on a student visa. Briefly describing his arrival into the US, he says “I was astounded by the amount of grass and rain, since I had lived mostly in the desert.”
When asked about his first introduction to Americans, he simply shrugs. “I had lived near a US army base in Saudi Arabia for quite awhile, so it was nothing new. People were more curious about me when I arrived.”
Additionally, this was not Dweik’s only understanding of the world outside the Middle East, as his siblings live in many different places. The family is large and widespread, with five siblings and a vast amount of close relatives.
“My siblings are Shada, Nada, Nadeem, Naseem, and Faris. My parents were like Dr. Seuss when they named us,” he jokes.
As the second youngest, he witnessed his brother earn an education in Canada and watched his siblings gain various occupations around the region. Now, his youngest brother, Naseem, is following him, enrolling in a small private school in West Palm Beach, Florida.
“Somewhere in the last three years I think I might have broken my family’s suspicion of the West,” Dweik explains.
Overall, Dweik has moved between Palestine, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain, but currently holds citizenship in Jordan. His first move from Palestine to Saudi Arabia came as a result of potential prosperity and a chance to escape the mounting conflict there. Dweik’s father, Mohammad Rashad, details that “a hospital in Saudi had offered me a job, and there was an American school where the children could go.”
But, for Dweik, the move was an opportunity to enter a more peaceful life, away from the armed conflicts in the Palestine.
“There were two occasions where conflict broke out, and I had to renew my Israeli passport to enter a safe zone, but was caught between mortar shelling and gunfire.” He recalls how lucky he was to both make it through those situations and continue to live out his dreams to this day.
Upon moving to Saudi Arabia, Dweik began what he considers his Westernization: living on an American compound and attending an American school. After about 12 years there, Dweik’s father moved to Jordan to continue working, and the rest of the family moved to Bahrain.
According to his mother, Duja Maswady, the split came from “his father and I disagreeing about placing ourselves in the vicinity of Palestine or Israel again. Bahrain is far more easy-going, whereas Jordan is often tied into the violence of that region.”
Following in the footsteps of his older brother, Faris, Dweik decided to apply for studying outside of the Middle East at the end of high school. Moving outside the Middle East is a common goal amongst prospective Arab students.
One of Dweik’s fellow classmates in Bahrain, Amir Hussain, who had been accepted to a London University, highly encouraged him to go abroad.
“Firas was always a straight A student, and I really thought he needed an escape from life over there. Regardless, most Arabs look highly on those who receive an education in the West, even if they may be anti-Western themselves.”
Finally reaching his destination and heading towards graduation, Dweik is pursuing his dream of working in the political field. Majoring in Political Science and minoring in Economics, his education and expertise are something employers could highly utilize.
McKenzie Sumpter, a political science major and close friend of Dweik has noticed him excel in school. She said “he always brings up the best points and ideas in class. With his background and intelligence, I could see him doing something big in the future.” All this sounds great, except for one major problem: gaining US citizenship.
“Getting citizenship is just about impossible for me,” Dweik states. And, once school ends, he will at least need a Green Card to remain (stable) in the United States. In order to gain this, he would need the consent and recommendation of an employer, but most jobs do not accept non-citizens. Then, he would need to be tested for citizenship, and go through the various steps of that process.
Although things look gloomy for his future in America, Dweik does have a plan for the next two years.
“I’m just going to keep moving on, working unpaid internships that hopefully transition into a real job. Maybe if I get some friends in the political world, citizenship will be less of an obstacle for me.”
Dweik states that he has no plans of ever moving back to the Middle East, but he will visit his family and friends when he can.