immigrants abeer
Image: Pete Stone

NAME Abeer Sawwaf
BORN ON February 17, 1974
BORN IN Beirut, Lebanon
WORKS AS Fellow of Plastic Surgery, OHSU
EMIGRATED TO THE U.S. ON June 15, 2002
LIVES IN Lake Oswego
NATURALIZED ON April 30, 2008

I WAS BORN IN Beirut in 1974, just before the Lebanese Civil War. What they were fighting about and who was fighting whom gets complicated, so let’s just say I lived with war throughout my childhood and into my adulthood. It was hard. I remember playing inside and hearing gun battles in the streets. Our house would shake from the bombs going off. When that happened, everybody in our apartment building would run down to the basement shelter. Sometimes we’d be there for 20 hours, and me and the other kids would make stuff—craft projects—and the bombs would be going off.

On July 17, 1981, when I was 7 years old, the Israelis began bombing apartment buildings in Beirut. They said they were targeting offices of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, which had been launching attacks on Israel, but 200 civilians were killed and 600 were wounded. The fighter jets were shrieking overhead as we fled to a house we had in the mountains just outside of the city. One thing I remember quite vividly is when I woke up, I looked down on the city, and the sky was glowing red from parachute flares. You’d hear a jet, then you’d see a light flash, and then a building going down. Now I think about it, and I’m like, Wow. The war didn’t kill me. I survived.

I got my medical degree from the American University of Beirut in 1998, interned for four years, and left in 2002 for my residency at OHSU. I took just one suitcase, thinking someday I’d move back to Beirut. But everything just sort of fell into place for me. I married an American, we had a baby, and today I became an American myself.

I didn’t realize how much I loved Beirut until I returned with my son Amir—his name means “prince” in Arabic. Beirut is by the sea and is just so beautiful. Now we go there every year to visit his cousins and his grandparents.

I became a citizen so I wouldn’t have to worry about having to renew my green card and my visa. It simplified my life. As a citizen, I will respect and protect this country, but that doesn’t mean I will forget my heritage. Every American comes from somewhere, right?