Last year, the Masto family arrived in the United States. They live in Cincinnati, Ohio. But is there a place for them in Trump's America?by Wendell Steavenson / September 12, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in October 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
I first met the Masto family in Lebanon in the spring of 2016. I was reporting on Syrian refugees and met Ibtisam, the mother, at the farmers’ market where she had a stall selling different kinds of kibbeh, the Middle Eastern dish of bulgur wheat pastry, usually stuffed with lamb and onions. She and her six children had fled Jisr al-Shughur, a city in the north of Syria, in 2013 after enduring months of fighting: bodies in the streets, no electricity, scarce food, a kidnap epidemic. Her husband Mohammed worked as a plumber in Lebanon, and after a nail-biting, bone-jarring 24-hour journey of buses and checkpoints, they joined him.
When I met them, they were living in a windowless concrete room in the outskirts of Beirut. They had just been told they were going to be resettled in the United States, but they didn’t yet know which city. They were nervous (and this was pre-Donald Trump) about how a Muslim family would be received. I looked at the family: at the two older girls, Amal and Asmaa, hovering in the doorway in long gowns and headscarves; at their brother Khaled, 14, respectfully bringing my translator and I cups of tea; the two younger girls, Sidra and Israa, trying to suppress their excitement at the visitors; and the littlest, Mohammed-Nour, then only four. They were a pious family; Mohammed had declined to shake my hand and touched his hand to his breast instead. Ibtisam wore a long black coat buttoned to her throat and her headscarf was neatly pleated and pinned around her face. None of them spoke a word of English. I tried to reassure them, but I was worried too. How would this conservative family from a provincial corner of Syria, traumatised by war, manage in the US?
They were sent to Cincinnati, Ohio. We kept in touch. Ibtisam wrote, via Facebook, that the first few months were difficult. They had been put in a house infested with raccoons, in a rough neighbourhood with drug dealers on the corners. When Trump was elected I messaged Ibtisam, sending my love. Google translate rendered a garbled version of her reply: “My children are well placed in school and always marked by excellent grades. Thank God. But I do not know what we do as Muslims. After the elections, Trump and I are afraid.”