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The 'America effect': How immigrants fall crazy in love

Immigrants' passion for America warps plans and bends dreams. My Pakistani parents realized that America changed their approach to life, just as it has changed everything else it has touched. American freedom is even helping (slowly) moderate latter-day Islam.

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The Space Shuttle Enterprise passes the Statue of Liberty as it rides on a barge in New York harbor June 6, 2012, up the Hudson River to be placed at the Intrepid Sea, Air, and Space Museum. Op-ed contributor Rob Asghar writes: 'Once you’re crazy in love with America, you begin to see life in a cockeyed manner, even if you try to resist it.'

Mike Segar/Reuters/File

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My father left a mud-hut village in Pakistan to come to America, hoping to receive some technical training. He hadn’t counted on falling for America, but that’s what happens to unsuspecting visitors. And the world is becoming a better place for it.

Dad enrolled at North Carolina State University more than 50 years ago and earned an engineering degree. On a brief return to Pakistan, he met my mother at a wedding – their own. As you might have guessed, it was an arranged marriage.

The prefabricated couple decided to spend “just a few years’’ in the United States because of the job opportunities here. But they took on more of America than they had bargained for.

That immigrant passion for America was first described to me by a university president who noticed that foreign students are susceptible to a peculiar effect that warps their plans and bends their dreams. If they return to their homeland, they wish it were more like America, and will work to make it so. Often they choose not to go home, or choose to return to America after a while.

Once you’re crazy in love with America, you begin to see life in a cockeyed manner, even if you try to resist it. You begin to believe you can pen the script of your own life, instead of allowing your family or your culture to write it for you. You sulk on your visits back home that life there is too corrupt or inefficient or limiting.

And while you’re concerned about that legendary permissiveness in America, you also sense that these Americans aren’t overly uptight, and something feels right about that. And when your children begin to drift from your heritage, as was the case with me and my father’s other children, you might stay awake late fuming about this country, but you suspect your destiny is tied inextricably with it.

That drifting involves a certain liberty, which has its roots all the way back to the settlement of this country by seekers of religious freedom. That basic value, fought and died for, has protected freedom of conscience to worship – or not – as one will.

Similarly, that freedom is helping (slowly) moderate latter-day Islam, as Gallup and Pew polls of Muslim-Americans have shown.

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