FROM BAGHDAD TO TUCSON, WITH LOVE: The Story of a Young Iraqi Refugee.

Students consider their views about Iraq and reflect on one young Iraqi refugee's view of the U.S.


Students will:
  • read an article about a young Iraqi currently living in the US
  • discuss Iraqi perspectives of the US
  • discuss American perspectives of Iraq
Social and Emotional Skills
  • stepping into another's shoes & compassion
  • becoming aware of assumptions and bias
  • critical thinking & media literacy
Materials needed
  • today's agenda on chart paper or the chalkboard
  • copies of Ali Rawaf's article "My Tucson: From Baghdad to Tucson, with Love."


5 minutes

In pairs, ask students to share a personal dream, aspiration, goal or ambition. Ask a few volunteers to share with the larger group.

Check agenda

2 minutes
Explain that in today's lesson students will be introduced to Ali Rawaf, a young Iraqi refugee living in Arizona at the time of writing the article included in this lesson.

My Tucson

30 minutes
Ask students to read the article below by Ali Rawaf, "My Tucson: From Baghdad to Tucson, with Love." Ask students to discuss the article, in groups of three.
Then have the full class discuss Ali's dreams and assumptions about the United States and the reality he came to know when he arrived in Tucson. Compare and contrast this to the assumptions students may have about Iraq and Iraqis. Use the questions below to guide this discussion:
1. What would you like to say about the article?
2. How did Ali imagine the United States?
3. What did Ali think about Americans before coming to Tucson?
4. Where did he get his information?
5. Was his information accurate? Was it complete?
6. What do you know about Iraqis?
7. Where did you get your information?
8. Do you think this information is accurate?
9. How do you know?
10. How does Ali fit into this image of Iraqis?
11. What does one of the last lines in the article (about Ali's heart) indicate?
* Connect answers to this final question to tomorrow's lesson, which will focus on the notion of "home."

Evaluation and closing

1 minute
On the count of three, ask students for a thumbs up, a thumbs down, or a thumbs in between to assess today's lesson.


Ask students in the coming weeks to follow the news with a specific focus on Iraq and take notes on what they learn about Iraq and the situation there today. Also encourage students to collect images related to Iraq. Remind them to note from what sources they are getting their information (including the media name, journalist name and date). With the information students bring back the classroom, further explore the questions asked to debrief the Ali Rawaf's article.
Other questions to consider:
" How much of our news focuses on American troops in Iraq? Why?
" How much of our news focuses on the Iraqi people themselves? Why?
" What does this do to our understanding of the situation in Iraq?
" How much do we know about the families of American troops in Iraq? Why?
" How much do we know about soldiers who have come back from Iraq? Why?
The goal of asking these (and other) questions is to encourage students to explore complex issues that have come about since the American led invasion of Iraq; not shy away from grappling with, connecting, engaging and taking responsibility. For it is in dumbing down issues such as these and in oversimplification, that a division of the world into "us" and "them" becomes possible, preventing the kind of empathy and understanding that allow us to choose for ourselves how to engage and affect change most effectively.

My Tucson: From Baghdad to Tucson, with love

(Published in the Tucson Citizen on February 18, 2008)
I was an 8-year-old kid when my mother asked me what I wanted to do in the future. "I want to study abroad. Maybe in America or Great Britain," I told her. "Happy dreams," she replied.
When I was in Baghdad, I watched all kinds of movies about the United States, ones that didn't make me feel that America could be on the same Earth [as Iraq] or that Americans are real people just like me. The skyscrapers filled the cities where rain made the ground so green. People snowball fighting not far from two cowboys in the desert shooting at each other: That was the America I dreamed about.
As a little kid, I knew I needed to learn English and speak it well. Luckily, I was accepted to an English-speaking school, the Iraqi Gifted Students' School, which I attended for four years.
Because of my nightmares of memories of people being killed and tortured, I didn't sleep at night in Iraq. I was famous for staying up late and working on school work or writing articles online. At 3 a.m., a friend called and suggested I apply for this program that takes Iraqi students to study in America and live with an American family. "The deadline is in five hours," he said. I submitted my application just 20 minutes before deadline. I took the English test and succeeded, and then I had an interview to test my spoken English and see where I might want to go in the U.S. and what my goals were. "I want to go to Michigan," I said.
Aug. 8 was my departure day. After a week of traveling, my plane landed, and the passenger beside me woke me up. We took our bags and got off the plane. We walked for a minute until I heard a loud, cheerful, "Welcome to Tucson, and by the way, we need to get you four vaccinations this afternoon." I saw no skyscrapers. I saw no grass. It was a bit hotter than Baghdad, and with no snow. Basically, it was nothing like the movies.
But then I discovered downtown Tucson and Fourth Avenue, where you see all kinds of different cafes and all kinds of people who are friendly and nice. Where I can write articles and blog from the Epic Café. I discovered playing soccer at Himmel Park. I discovered sitting in a car on top of Windy Point and discussing my heart with a friend. I discovered Guerro Canelo and grilled jalapeños. I discovered people with open minds who will listen to me share about my lovely Baghdad and who are very generous to Iraqi refugees.
I discovered that Tucson is a place where all different cultures meet; you can find people from all over the world in the little, nice, sunny Tucson, and they are greeted with warmth and kindness, even though one's heart is far away in the bustling streets by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
Thank you, Tucson.
Reprinted with permission from the Tucson Citizen ( )
This lesson was written for TeachableMoment.Org, a project of Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility. We welcome your comments. Email us at