At the tender age of 7, Peter A. Hazzan didn’t fully understand the impact emigrating to the United States would have on the rest of his life. But his Palestinian parents, seeking better educational and economic opportunities for their children, understood well the promise and hope of life in America. So on December 22, 1960, twelve years after the violent establishment of Israel and an increasingly abysmal outlook for Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, Peter Hazzan and his parents, full of optimism, left their beloved homeland in the Middle East for a new life in the United States.
Mr. Hazzan has had quite a journey since arriving in the United States 50 years ago. In addition to raising two daughters, both of whom are currently attending prestigious American universities, he possesses two Master’s degrees, one of Education Administration from UB and the other of Arab Studies and International Relations from Georgetown University. He also has a Bachelor’s degree of Political Science from the University of Ottawa. While not working in his current position as a Project Coordinator with the NYS Education Department, Mr. Hazzan is pursuing a doctorate of Education at UB. He speaks fluent Arabic.
I was privileged and honored to hear about his experiences as an Arab-American.
RJ: What were the motivating factors behind your emigration to the United States?
PH: My father always had a vision of bringing his children to the US to live the American way of life, a better way of life than he and my mother would’ve had had they remained in the Middle East. He even had the foresight of giving us all American-sounding names. In the 1950’s he worked for the US government, opening up American embassies around the Middle East.
RJ: You were young when you came to the US but do you remember having expectations of how life would be here? How have those been met and how has reality fallen short of them?
PH: I had no expectations prior to coming to the US. After being raised here by my parents, they instilled in me the vision that you can become anything you want to be as long as you work hard and receive an education. None of my personal goals, or those of my parents, ever fell short of achieving the American dream. We were, and have lived, the American dream.
RJ: As an Arab-American, have you ever experienced discrimination in the US?
PH: Every day of my life I, as an Arab-American, see the discrimination towards Arabs in general, and Palestinians, in particular. Discrimination against Arabs (Palestinians) has been going on since the birth of Israel. At first, I denied my Arab heritage as a young man growing up due to wanting to be accepted by my peers. Later in life, I seized my Arab heritage and fought to dispel the myths and stereotypes of Arabs and Arab Americans.
RJ: What are your major accomplishments since emigrating?
PH: My accomplishment has been to live the better life my parents sought for me and my siblings. I have been able to achieve my goals and raise my children in the best nation on earth.
RJ: What do you want every American to know about your Palestinian heritage?
PH: I tell those who want to listen who the Palestinians are and their contribution to the global community. I inform people of what the Palestinian plight is all about and their struggle to achieve an independent homeland.
Part II: Most Arabs and Jews want the same things