My heritage is mixed: Arab, Assyrian, Chaldean and quite possibly Jewish on my paternal grandmother’s side. No one knows for sure, but names in particular tend to be telltale signs. Our family, having been in Mosul (a pluralistic city) for a few generations, spoke Arabic with a Moslawi dialect. Both sets of grandparents eventually moved to Baghdad, and my father’s family moved there the summer before he started high school. My mother’s family also moved to Baghdad when she was in high school, but since my maternal grandfather traveled to different towns for work, their stints in Mosul were brief. When my parents took our family out of Iraq in 1977, they had no idea how widespread the diaspora would become. The Moslawieen are now scattered across the world.
The Iraqi people in diaspora worldwide tend to gather in communities, forming a subculture within their respective naturalized countries. This is how Middle Eastern markets, bakeries and other businesses that serve the needs of this particular demographic sprout up. It is natural, and it happens with many immigrant groups, becoming an important contributing factor in the passing on of ethnic dishes, traditions and customs. Of course, there are also immigrants who have no desire and feel no need to maintain ties to their ethnic community, seeking instead total and complete integration into a Western identity. Many of these folks have their own reasons for disinterest, avoidance or rejection of their origins. To be honest, I experienced several years of wanting nothing to do with my Iraqi heritage. I had my own personal motives. Immigration and assimilation are complex issues to which I will return.
Those of us Iraqi Christians who are Arabic speakers – like the Syriac speakers – are also in danger of losing our ethnic identities through assimilation. The Syriac speakers have one great benefit: They can understand their ecclesiastical language since, for the most part, the liturgy is said in Syriac. The preservation of a unique language is a cultural rallying point that gives the Assyrians an advantage in survival. And yet both communities may be in danger of fading, as the younger generations give in to the pressure of total and complete integration with the host country.
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