Syrian refugees meet their Lower Northeast neighbors at Reading Terminal Market

Syrian refugees meet their Lower Northeast neighbors at Reading Terminal Market

MICHAEL BRYANT / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Syrian refugee Abeer Bdaiwi samples chipotle that chef Jack McDavid (left) used.

by Michael Matza, Staff Writer  @MichaelMatza1

The date had been on the calendar for months:

Two dozen Syrian refugees, recently resettled in Philadelphia’s Lower Northeast, would meet Tuesday night in Reading Terminal Market with two dozen of their native-born American neighbors for a meal and discussion about the challenges of assimilation.

The meeting “was relevant even before” President Trump’s executive order five days ago barring Syrian immigration to the United States, “and relevant on steroids now,” said Terminal general manager Anuj Gupta.

“Our country is doing things that I could have never imagined. … And for me this is personal. I am here because my … grandmother had a chance to flee a war zone between India and Pakistan and come to a safe haven.

“I can’t account for what leaders in Washington are saying. But to our newest friends,” he said, “you are all welcome here.”

The Syrian participants were chosen by two local resettlement agencies, HIAS Pennsylvania and Nationalities Service Center.

Pamela Baranackie, vice chair of the Lower Northeast community group Take Back Our Neighborhood, chose the long-term residents who attended.

She said she picked a cross-section of her neighborhood, which includes people born in Brazil, Africa, and the Caribbean, because “when it says on the Statue of Liberty, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,’ you don’t immediately think of a middle-aged white man.”

Husband and wife Ahmad Moaddal and Khaldieh Al Ali arrived in Philadelphia four months ago and Tuesday night dropped by the table where Arabic-speaking Hesham Barouki, of Kamal’s Middle East Market, was forming ground chickpeas into small balls to be fried for falafel. Al Ali and Barouki discussed technique.

In another corner set aside for the event, chef Jack McDavid of the Down Home Diner prepared blackened catfish.

McDavid said his ancestors were refugees from Ireland.

“We’re all refugees,” he said, “that’s what made us great and will keep us great. The people of America have stood up to their government before, and will do it again.”

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Julia Clayton of Castor Gardens, a retired university billing office employee, said she came out to see what she could do to help welcome her new foreign-born neighbors.

The forum that brought these new neighbors together, “Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers: Food as a bridge to cultural understanding,” was inspired in part by the book The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life by sociologist Elijah Anderson.

The “canopy,” said Gupta, is Anderson’s metaphor for the Terminal, where food is a common denominator that stimulates interactions between strangers of completely different backgrounds.

Gupta drew on that concept in his successful pitch for approximately $80,000 in Knight Foundation grant funding.

The money will pay for six two-part forums. Residents meet at the first part and come back about six months — hopefully better acquainted — to cook a meal together during the second part.

“Our cuisines don’t just represent a tablespoon of this and a cup of that,” said Gupta. “Our cuisines represent our history, culture, values.”

Mediated through interpreters, communication Tuesday was a bit cumbersome. But shared smiles spoke volumes.

Of the states that have resettled Syrian refugees, Pennsylvania was third in fiscal 2015 with 102, preceded by Michigan (166), and California (122).

According to the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington research center that publishes data on immigration, more than 11 million Syrians have been displaced — internally and externally — by Syria’s six-year-old civil war. Of them, about 18,000 were resettled in the U.S. between Oct. 1, 2011, and Dec. 31, 2016.

Trump’s executive order put a stop to that.

Radwan Mahmoud, 50, came to Philadelphia with his wife and two children six months ago, and works as a bilingual counselor in the School District of Philadelphia.

“In my country we experienced the worst dictatorship,” he said. “So I’m not worried in America.”

The president here has a four-year term or two, said Mahmoud. “There is an end. … He cannot go further.”


The Cosmopolitan Canopy: How can cities like Milwaukee break down ethnic and racial barriers?

The Cosmopolitan Canopy: How can cities like Milwaukee break down ethnic and racial barriers?

Much has been made of Milwaukee being one of, if not the most, racially segregated cities in the country. And yet a quick glance at a map of resident ethnicity confirms there are a number of places where diverse populations mix. Yale professor Elijah Anderson explores these places where people of all backgrounds peacefully coexist and rub elbows in his book The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life. Anderson draws on Philadelphia for his inspiration, but the examples he cites have direct corollaries in Milwaukee.

What can be done to expand these spaces? Why do they still fail? How do we break down barriers to create a less segregated city? We’ll discuss the places Anderson examines, including parks, transit stations, malls and public markets, as a way to look at better designing places for everyone.

Come for discussion and a social hour on Monday, December 12th in the backroom of My Office, 763 N. Milwaukee St., from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. All are welcome to attend, the discussions are informal and open-ended. If you don’t finish the book, don’t worry. Come to listen, learn and engage.  

The book is available from Amazon, the Milwaukee Public Library, and book stores everywhere.

To stay in the loop about future book club news, sign up for our Book Club mailing list. To help us better plan, please RSVP on Facebook, although it’s not required.

About Elijah Anderson

Elijah Anderson is the William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Sociology at Yale University. He is one of the leading urban ethnographers in the United States. His publications include Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City (1999), winner of the Komarovsky Award from the Eastern Sociological Society; Streetwise: Race, Class, and Change in an Urban Community(1990), winner of the American Sociological Association’s Robert E. Park Award for the best published book in the area of Urban Sociology; and the classic sociological work, A Place on the Corner (1978; 2nd ed., 2003). Anderson’s most recent ethnographic work, The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life, was published by WW Norton in March 2012. He is the 2013 recipient of the prestigious Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award of the American Sociological Association.

Dr. Anderson has served on the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Political and Social Science and is formerly a vice-president of the American Sociological Association. He has served in an editorial capacity for a wide range of professional journals and special publications, including Qualitative Sociology, Ethnography, American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, City & Community, Annals of the Society of Political and Social Science, and the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. He has also served as a consultant to a variety of government agencies, including the White House, the United States Congress, the National Academy of Science and the National Science Foundation. Additionally, he was a member of the National Research Council’s Panel on the Understanding and Control of Violent Behavior.

Elijah Anderson on Race Relations and Public Space: Beyond the Primacy of the Street

Elijah Anderson on Race Relations and Public Space: Beyond the Primacy of the Street

Contemporary SociologyThe Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life, by Elijah Anderson New York, NY: W.W. Norton and Company, 2012. 318pp. $17.95 paper. ISBN:97803933

Mitchell Duneier
Princeton University

Were a future historian to turn to the sociological literature of the past fifty years to seek information on how members of different races were living together in urban areas, he or she would get almost no sense of the extent to which blacks and whites (not to mention other groups) have interacted along and across racial lines. Harvey Molotch’s Managed Integration (1972) showed, by counting the number of blacks and whites in various stores and commercial spaces, that they may have gone shopping side by side, but otherwise, they did not socialize in public. There has been little ethnographic data collected on the topic since. In works like Massey and Denton’sAmerican Apartheid (1994) and Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged (1987), which emphasize the extent of social isolation and segregation in the United States, interaction suffuses these studies as an imputed variable. These works were never intended to be informative about the actual interactions that occur between and outside such communities as their inhabitants circulate throughout the city, but the influence of demographic images could give the impression that blacks and whites barely interact.