Arab Americans reflect on life after the Sept. 11 attacks

By Margaret Brinson, Managing Editor

Sandro Jadon, a Jackson businessman, moved to the United States soon after 9/11. He has experienced discrimination because of his Middle Eastern background. Photo by Zac Calvert

The year 2011 marks the 10th year since the travesty that shattered lives and shaped a gen­eration — Sept. 11, 2001.

A decade past the day of the attacks, time has perhaps been able to heal some of the hurts and holes left in the fam­ilies of those who were lost on that day.

But for Arabs in Amer­ica — the invisible vic­tims of 9/11, left to face the blame for the actions of extremists — the attacks are anything but over.

According to a study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 30 percent of the public said they have a favor­able opinion of Islam. Meanwhile, 38 percent replied unfavorably. This is in contrast to a similar study from 2005, in which more said they had a favorable opinion of the religion. But is this sentiment reflected in Jackson?

Sandro Jadon is start­ing a cell phone business on Hollywood Drive. An Arab immigrant from Israel, Jadon will soon have been in the United States 10 years — he arrived in the months following the attacks of 2001.

Jadon holds a dual citizenship between the two nations he has come to call home.

Next door to his start-up, Alex Hanson, from Lebanon, runs the only Middle Eastern grocery in town. He too has been in America 10 years, though he came to Jackson only weeks prior to Sept. 11. When the attacks came, Han­son said he was anxious as to how his newfound communi­ty would react. His Eng­lish still was not quite solid, and he was afraid.

Jackson does not have much of an Arab commu­nity.

The minute amount of migrants who have made their way to West Ten­nessee is widespread, and Jadon and Hanson’s side-by-side setup is about the closest thing in the city to an Arab district.

For Jadon, the life of an Arab-American in Jackson is simply de­scribed: “It’s difficult.”

“A lot of people both­ered me when 9/11 first happened,” Hanson said. “You need to let it pass. I know these people were hurting, but it was not my fault.”

According to Hanson, hateful threats and rac­ist remarks have less­ened in the 10 years since Sept. 11, and with his warm smile and hearty laugh it is easy to see how a community could rally around such a neighbor and friend.

“I’ve been here 10 years,” Hanson said. “People know me.”

From Jadon’s per­spective, how­ever, not much has changed.

Whether it be the every­day ignorance of assumptions — like the times people take him for a Mexican, punc­tuating their questions with “Eh, Amigo?” — or more intentional slurs, like terrorist, racism in America is far from re­formed.

“The fear has less­ened,” he said. “Just like the house smells and you walk in and stay there for three hours and then it doesn’t smell anymore, but it does.

“Hate got confused. It’s like an energy, it didn’t really go away, it just changed forms to confusion and distrust and then hate again, and then not so much hate. Americans don’t know who to trust anymore, I guess.”

Both men emphasized the need for understand­ing and education to eradicate ignorance and with it, hate, injustice and fear.

One of the frustra­tions Jadon said he often encounters is the stereo­type that all Arabs are Muslim.

Himself a Christian, Jadon pointed out the fact that Christianity was actually birthed in the Middle East.

“If you want to go to the roots of the problem, then understand. People have to view people as people,” He said.

But whether educa­tion will solve every as­pect of race relations in the United States is up for debate.

Understanding, Han­son said, comes also from conversations, re­lationship-building and getting to know a neigh­bor with a different na­tionality.

In the end, communi­ties will have to come together.

“This is life: You can live it with happiness, or you can live it in hate,” Hanson said. “If you want to fix something, fix yourself.

“The new generation is going to make all the difference. The time to hate is over. If we keep separate, we will be weak.”

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.