Friday, December 11, 2015

My Lebanese & Syrian Friends

Every day we hear about some new atrocities by the middle east terroristsI. The latest one was the shooting in San Bernardino, before that the tragedy in Paris. There was a bombing in Beirut the day before Paris but that barely made the news. That is because terrorists attacks in Lebanon are too common plus "westerners" weren't killed. "Black Lives Matter" is a popular saying and movement here in the United States. I say "Muslim Lives Matter" too or more accurately, "Arab Lives" matter because they are not all Muslims. I realize that all ethnic groups in the middle east are not Arabs, I mean all lives, other than the terrorists, in the middle east matter. I feel for my Lebanese and Syrian friends every day because there are news stories everyday.

I said my Lebanese and Syrian friends. I don't mean that in just an offhand or generic manner. I truly have several Arab friends, some of them for over 60 years. I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida. That city had a large established Arab community. Many of them were Christians, Catholics in particular. I went to Catholic school with many of them. Young kids don't know or care that people come from different places or what prejudices are unless they are taught that by adults. I had no idea that these Arab kids were different from me. Sure, their complexions were a little darker than mine but that applied to about 95% of the kids. I was a freckle-faced red haired kid. It took me most of the summer to get a little color and about three hours to lose it. Jacksonville was a very racist and segregated city when I was growing up. I don't know how much prejudice the Arab community endured, I'm sure there was some. The kids I went to school with were all born in the US. It was their grandparents or parents who had immigrated to this country. I'm not sure why so many Lebanese and Syrians settled in Jacksonville other than the fact it is a port city. I'm sure there were those native whites who were not happy with these new residents.

The Arab kids I grew up with were just part of the gang to me. We were classmates, teammates, friends and yes, sometimes enemies. You know how kids are, sometimes your best friend becomes your worst enemy overnight, then back to best friend. None of these decisions were based on ethnicity. We did all the stuff kids growing up together do. We played all the sports, mostly baseball and softball in my case. 

When I was in high school gym class I has a small 1'x1'x2' locker. Just big enough to stash my gym clothes or my school clothes during PE. My buddy who I had gone to grade school with for eight years, had the locker right next to mine. He played football so it was a full size locker. One big enough to hang clothes up in. For two years he shared his locker with me. I had the hook on the left side. I knew his lock combination, he knew mine. Never once did I worry about getting Lebanese cooties on my stuff. I assume he didn't worry about catching any Irish cooties on his. 

I could go on about all the good times, tough scrapes and just day to day activities I shared with these friends.

Let's try to come to grips with the fact that most people are the same at their core. We all want the same things for our families and ourselves. Yes, there are bad guys in every racial, ethnic and religious group. So what.

If the current mood of banning Syrian and Lebanese immigrants and refugees had been prevalent 75 or 100 years ago, I would never have had friends like Greg, Doug, Mitchell, Mike, Paul, Ronnie, Joe, Nelson, Sharon and a few others I'm sure I forgot. That would have been my loss.

Let's try to stop the hatred. For a country that brags about being brave and strong and macho, we certainly seem to be paranoid and afraid of almost everything. That includes children from Syria and Mexico. Man up America, don't cower in the corner.


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