November 12th, 2012
03:30 PM ET

An aging immigrant rebuilds life, career in U.S.

Editor’s note: CNN's Azadeh Ansari wrote this article as part of the MetLife Foundation Journalists in Aging Fellowship, a project of New America Media and the Gerontological Society of America.

By Azadeh Ansari, CNN

West Bloomfield, Michigan (CNN) – At 3 a.m., the ring of the phone jolts Sabri Shuker out of bed.

It’s not a typical wake-up call for most, but he’s come to expect them. His gut tells him the news he’s about to receive will keep him up for days. Shuker’s heart beats faster. Short of breath, he answers anxiously.

The voice on the other end is familiar, calling from overseas, but the message is disheartening: Yet another member of his family is “missing.” This time, it’s his cousin.

Back in Iraq, he slept through artillery and bombs. But since he came to the United States in 2002, a ring of the phone can feel like an explosion.

Whenever a call comes late at night, Shuker's mind races back to the people he knew back home and the people who disappeared or died. Many were professors or doctors, educated people who made good homes for their families.

He paces his house in suburban Detroit, runs his hands through his thinning white hair, overwhelmed by memories and emotion, the helpless feeling that comes from being far away.

During the past couple decades, Iraqis escaped conflicts in their homeland and settled in America to start over. They joined a burgeoning Arab community that has grown to 500,000 strong in the Detroit area, according to ACCESS, the most prominent help center for Arabs in Dearborn, Michigan.

As many as 3.5 million people of Arab descent live in the United States, according to the Arab American Institute, a nonprofit organization that encourages Arab-American participation in political and civic life. Some have lived in the United States for generations, some arrived as refugees, and some, like the Shuker family, emigrated here.

Older Iraqis like Shuker, 76, come to this country with a life’s worth of memories. The number of older refugees living in the United States is uncertain, but their struggles are clear. Often, they find themselves living in two worlds, community activists say.

For them, the transition and culture shock are difficult to bear. Shuker represents thousands of well-educated Iraqi immigrants who not only left their belongings behind but lost their identities in the process. FULL POST

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