The Kurdish writer Yaşar Kamal once said that “the world is a garden of culture where a thousand flowers grow.” Indeed, our universal human experience, like any healthy ecosystem, benefits from a rich diversity. This richness, I have learned, comes from deep within the human heart, and therefore cannot be contained by any manmade border or other artificial boundary, as hard as some may try …

In high school I was often asked about my nationality, because I spoke with an accent and dressed differently than my classmates. My Kurdish family and I were recent settlers to Atlanta, forced from our home in northern Iraq following the first Gulf War. The former regime, angry at Kurds for siding with the U.S., had planted thousands of deadly land mines in and around Kurdish cities of the north. When my father and brothers worked with outside forces to remove the explosives, our family became a prime target of the regime and we were forced to leave.

the world is a garden of culture where a thousand flowers grow

Years later, I met a handsome gentleman in the District of Columbia named Tyson. When I learned that Tyson had served with the Marine Corps in Iraq, I was reminded of a memorable interaction that I’d had years ago with U.S. Marines who were deployed to my city.

There I was, 9 years-old, on the street of Zakho with a grenade in my hand. The Marines, out on patrol, had spotted me from their wheeled vehicle. From a distance, they waved a bag of candy, indicating they would exchange it for the shiny explosive shell. I was terrified, but also very hungry and excited for food. Slowly, I made my way towards the military men, holding out the grenade while keeping my focus on the sweets. Once I had the bag, I turned and ran as hard as I could, too excited to share the treats with my younger siblings.

When Tyson and I started going out, our early conversations often turned to our experiences in Iraq and our shared passion for helping others. Even though our arrangement defied conventional wisdom about the mixing of different cultures, we quickly realized how much we had in common. Love, we both discovered, knows no religion or nationality. Love conquers all.

As proof, I shared with Tyson videos of Maz Jobrani, an Iranian-born American comedian who routinely pokes fun at cultural differences, including the American media’s constant demonization of people with Middle Eastern origins. I wasn’t sure how Tyson would react, given his military background and combat service during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. He thought Maz was hilarious! Together, in defiance of neurotic autocrats everywhere, Tyson and I spent our first dates laughing at Maz, the World, and ourselves. And, we fell in love, because that’s what humans do.

The beginning of our story ends in perhaps the only way possible. Tyson, a meticulous planner, surprised me this summer with tickets to see Maz Jobrani live at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. What I didn’t know was that Tyson had been coordinating with Maz and his team to pull off the most memorable proposal anyone could have imagined.

At the end of his set, Maz thanked the audience and announced he would bring a fan on stage to end the show. He called upon Tyson and I was shocked! (Tyson, who acted surprised, was not!) We made our way backstage before joining Maz on stage. He and Tyson had a hilarious back-and-forth, and then, before an audience of several thousand people, Tyson asked me to “allow him to tell the world that I will be Mrs. Sairany-Manker.” It was a dream.

Tyson and I are living the American dream, thanks in part to the service of generations of military men and women who sacrificed to defend our way of life, as well as the countless immigrants, many who endured extreme hardships, to make America into the greatest nation without a single whimper or complaint. With so much negativity in the world, we are committing ourselves and our future family to an all-American spirit of compassion, open-mindedness, inclusivity and of course, love. After all, that is the only America that we know.