My mother and father met in college in upstate New York – he, a Lebanese -Muslim-Republican named Muhammad and she, an American non-practicing Methodist-Democrat named Maureen. They fell in love and had three daughters – Najla, our olive-skinned sister, and my twin sister and me – pale and freckled. My mother chose a Lebanese name for her first child. Our father wanted American-sounding names for his second (and surprise third) so Maggie and Suzie were chosen. I’ve always loved my name – and loved the family I was raised in. Mine was a family that celebrated American and secularized-Christian holidays mixed with Lebanese ‘Hafli’s’ (parties) complete with belly dancers and tables heaped with Lebanese food.
I grew up thinking Lebni (a thick yogurt similar to Greek-style) was an American food – and only realized bagels were not middle eastern in elementary school when one of my Irish-American friends showed up with them at school. My father was a devout Muslim – and wanted his girls to learn more about the religion, but both of my parents felt the mosques in our area were too rigid – something my father didn’t want his girls to experience. He grew up in war-torn Beirut – where the constant fighting about ideals and spirituality lead him to adopt a more open-minded point-of-view: that differing perspectives were something to celebrate. It was this point of view that drew him to America – he fell in love with this country and the idea that all people are welcome.
I loved my father’s warm diplomacy, his quiet yet firm voice, the smell of his tobacco pipes – and the polite Arabic sayings that became part of our everyday communication. I always thought I might learn Arabic… beyond these polite sayings none of the Husami women spoke Arabic at all. It wasn’t until my father’s bloody nose was diagnosed as something more complicated that I began to realize that the middle eastern side of my family might be slipping away. My father dealt with a long battle with cancer – one that seemed to overtake my childhood. Eventually he succumbed in October of 1991. I grew up with a wonderful mix of two cultures but my sisters and I have always been and felt American – something I know my father had wanted for his children. The thing I yearn for now is to regain the Lebanese culture that infused my life when I was a child – and that began to slowly fade with my father’s passing.