New Year, New Start Zleiks Now a Truly American Family By Lorraine Boyd 1/1/19 01/02/19 10:38:19 AM
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The new American family of Ryan Zleik, daughter Anastasia and son Theodore celebrates the naturalization of Ryan’s wife Lillian Haddad Zleik in December. (Courtesy photo)
New Year, New Start
Zleiks Now a Truly American Family
By Lorraine Boyd
The Daily Record
The New Year is indeed a promising one for one new American family.
But to understand their hope for the future, you have to know a little about their past.
Imagine that you are living in your hometown, practicing as a dentist, with a lovely young wife. Then the civil war that has been raging in your country for the past year catches up with you. You must leave your friends and family and flee to another country, not knowing if you will ever return.
Your country, your home, is Syria and it is currently one of the most dangerous countries on Earth. It is beset with terrorism, civil unrest and armed conflict. Several countries, and terrorist organizations, are fighting for supremacy.
The Middle Eastern country of Syria, bordered by Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Israel and Lebanon, is one of the oldest inhabited regions in the world with archaeological finds dating the first human habitation at c. 700,000 years ago.
But the current Syrian conflict is one of the worst humanitarian crises of our time. More than 12 million
citizens – half of the population – have been killed or forced to flee as the authoritarian government seeks to crush the anti-government uprising that began with the 2011 Arab Spring.
That was the situation facing Ryan Zleik and his wife Lillian Haddad Zleik. In 2012, they fled Syria and immigrated to New York City.
They felt they had no choice but to leave.
“I lost too many friends, especially Fr. Basilios Nassar who was killed by the Al-Nursra Front (al Qaeda) in Hama in January 2012,” Ryan said. His friend and priest was tending to a wounded parishioner when he was killed.
Hama, in the middle of Syria, is Ryan’s hometown. Lillian is from Latakia, a city on the Mediterranean Sea.
“Both cities don’t have fighting (now), but the sub (sub districts) of both is very dangerous and considered
as war zones,” Ryan said.
The rich history of what is now the city of Hama reaches back at least 6,000 years. Hama, no stranger to war, was devastated as recently as the 1982 massacre led by the government forces against the Islamist uprising.
But it’s the recent conflict that drove the Zleiks out of their native land to seek a new life in the United States.
After a year and a half in New York City, and the birth of their first child – a daughter they named Anastasia – the little family moved to Omaha, where Lillian had a brother and a sister. Her siblings are not yet citizens, but her sister is working toward that, Lillian said.
Some of Ryan’s family “is now in Canada since (President Donald Trump’s) travel ban didn’t allow them to come to the U.S.A., even for a visit,” he said.
Reflecting on the country they fled, Ryan said he still has family there.
“I worry about them,” he said. “It’s a difficult situation there. The economic situation is bad … no jobs, no business. And the main sources for living, like good city water, are scarce. Sometimes medicine is not good, and the supply is very poor. So, yes, it is very hard.”
Yet today’s outlook in Syria is better than when his family left.
“The situation in Syria now is much better than five years ago,” Ryan said. “The major worry is the economic situation because of the Western sanctions against Syria.”
That said, Ryan felt President Trump’s “decision to pull out the U.S. forces without consideration to our allies in Syria is wrong. Too many people still need our support in Syria, like the Kurds.”
U.S. policies on accepting refugees from Syria have also drawn criticism, yet the Zleik family is thriving in America.
Since they arrived on U.S. soil, they have striven to embrace their adopted home, perfecting their English and studying their professions.
Both Ryan and Lillian are studying and taking exams: Ryan to get his dental license here in the States, and Lillian to get a degree in health management.
They have also worked hard to study for their citizenship tests. After six years in the States, Ryan became a naturalized citizen nearly four months ago.
“I did the process all myself,” he said of the citizenship process. He didn’t reach out for help.
Recently, the family welcomed the birth of their son, Theodore, in Omaha.
Since English is not their first language, you could hear the family conversing in their native tongue at home. But both Ryan and Lillian easily switched to English when asked.
“I worked for a time in Dubai, where I spoke English,” Ryan said. “Then we learned some (English) here as well.”
While Ryan didn’t seek help to become a citizen, there is help available if others need it.
The Immigrant Legal Center, formerly Justice for our Neighbors – Nebraska, launched a petition drive in 2016 to urge the government to increase the number of Syrian refugees they would accept. They continue to support Syrian refugees today.
At Last, Citizenship
Lillian was sworn in as a U.S. citizen by U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Bazis on December 7, in the final naturalization ceremony of 2018 at the federal courthouse in Omaha. Her proud family snapped pictures and beamed. She joined 33 others who proudly displayed their citizenship papers.
Now the Zleiks can start the new year as new citizens in a country that offers the promise of “a better life.”
They are free to work and to study, and to merge their two cultures.
They celebrated Christmas for the first time as citizens together at their Greek Orthodox Catholic church. Their children, having been born here, are already citizens.
The Zleiks joined some 3,600 others statewide who have become citizens in 2018, a figure that seemed a little higher than usual according to an immigration official.
The official didn’t attempt to count the number of countries the new citizens came from. Rather, she said it seems that Nebraska is a real melting pot.