Thursday, September 3, 2015

My Syrian Relatives

Those are my Syrian relatives who immigrated from Homs in the early part of the twentieth century. My grandfather is the second from the left, one hand on his mother's shoulder. Grandpa was a tough guy, smoked packs and packs of cigarettes, cursed in Arabic and called me Rosalita because I looked more Italian than Syrian.

I think about my Syrian relatives whenever I read about the chaos and tragedy of Syria. I imagine people with the same blood as mine are running through the streets or away. Like everyone, I am struck dumb by the constant stream of photos of the millions of desperate refugees, particularly the one of the little boy, face-down in the sand at the water's edge. What do we do in the face of such madness? What do we even think? I can't look away. I can't not think about it. I wish that I could do something about it.

I don't believe in borders, in walls and nations, to tell you the truth. I feel no pride as an American, but rather fortunate, lucky to be here and not Syria. Lucky, not proud. I admire the actions of Germany and Iceland who have announced programs to take these refugees. I wish that I could offer my home to a refugee, but how do I do that? How do we do that? I live in America where the ruling class can't figure out a proper immigration policy, where a leading candidate for president wants to build a giant wall at the border to keep people out, where people complain about illegals getting an education or a driver's license or food stamps. I'm an American and complicit. I'm also Syrian, and I want to do something.


  1. Thank you for this post. Tonight at sangha we talked about the immigrant tragedy happening in Europe. And here. It is shameful. Shameful.

    And that is all.

  2. Thank you for this, Elizabeth. It's unimaginable, and yet it is happening.

  3. It reminds me of the Jews trying to leave Europe prior to WWII and countries refusing to take them in.
    To do nothing is to be complicit. Write your government. Make a donation. Don't let Alan, the little boy on the beach, have died for nothing.

    The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

    Edmund Burke

  4. The photos are so thought provoking. So sad. The trains in Hungary being swarmed by those wanting a better life--desperate for one! The tiny lifeless body on the beach. I just read that his father has given up that dream (of course) and returned to Syria to bury his family.


  5. Imagine there's no countries
    It isn't hard to do
    Nothing to kill or die for
    And no religion too
    Imagine all the people
    Living life in peace...
    You may say I'm a dreamer
    But I'm not the only one
    I hope someday you'll join us
    And the world will be as one

  6. I am so with you on the borders as well as the pride in my country thing. Hell. I was just born here. I had nothing to do with that. A few miles south and I would have been born in Mexico.
    I don't have any answers. Of course.
    But here's how I feel- sick to my stomach. Sick to my bones.

  7. I'm with you all the way. I have no earthly idea about what to do to make this situation better. I DO feel very strongly that America needs to step up and assist Europe in accepting these refugees, since American wars so badly destabilized the Middle East.

  8. I am overwhelmed by that picture - one of the saddest things I've ever seen. I want very much to do something here, to help. But I too have no idea how to do that. It's seems that America is always the last to reach out. I don't want to think of myself as part of that. But I am, until I figure out what I can do myself.
    Thank you E for sharing this.

  9. I agree totally. Although my father fought (and ultimately, died) for our country's military, I feel no pride in being an "American" versus a Canadian or a Ukrainian or anything else. We are all people and I think that scenes like the ones we are seeing in the media, of people washing up on beaches and drowning and desperately trying to lead their loved ones to safety are just one more reminder that we are all connected. We can create artificial borders, talk about different governmental structures, plow money into foreign wars as though they aren't our problem, but ultimately we are all connected and we will reap what we are sowing. If we refuse to really get involved in ways that are substantive and instead talk about which "side" to support in a war or conflict, we will eventually have to deal with the fallout. I wish I knew what to do. In the meantime, I will keep breathing in pain and breathing out love.

  10. I will never understand the mindset of a person who looks at those refugees and sees anything other than a brother or sister, a fellow human in need. Not much shocks me, but I was shocked to see people online criticizing the Syrians who are trying to save their own lives and those of their family How do they not see it is sheer dumb luck that they themselves are not the ones fleeing a war-torn country? The mental gymnastics some people will do to excuse themselves of uncomfortable feelings can be infuriating.

    I knew which one was your direct ancestor before you told me. There is a resemblance.

  11. I used to be proudly Canadian but not anymore. It becomes more and more embarrassing. It is Canadian officials that denied that little boy and his family into Canada. Most Canadian are sickened by our current Autocrat government. He is a sick and evil man. Canada used to be a place of safety for refugees but not anymore. We used to be peacekeepers but now we have a government that would rather purchase fighter jets than spend money helping people.

  12. So often you articulate how I feel but can't articulate myself. Yes I feel lucky not proud.

  13. The International Red Cross/Red Crescent and Oxfam are usually safe organizations to donate to help those in need. Shelter Box is a great organization that helps displaced people.



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