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.”


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.

Racial Harmony in the City – Inner Compass

Racial Harmony in the City – Inner Compass

Calvin College Video Interview

In some cities, pockets of serenity can be found where people of many races find themselves mingling and enjoying each other’s presence. Yale sociologist Elijah Anderson, author of The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life, has studied these public spaces and shares what they reveal about us and our hope as a society. Karen Saupe hosts. (Episode 1306)

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Public gathering spots give people chances to observe, learn about each other.

Public gathering spots give people chances to observe, learn about each other.

By Jim Shelton, New Haven Register / Twitter: @jimboshelton

NEW HAVEN — Elijah Anderson is always on the lookout for new branches of the cosmopolitan canopy.

He finds them in downtown coffee shops, along inner-city bike paths and, of course, on the Green. They’re places where people of all races gather in the public square and collectively adhere to a higher standard of civility — all without prompting.

Anderson, a Yale University professor and one of the country’s leading sociologists, calls this the cosmopolitan canopy.

“These are islands of civility in a sea of segregated living,” says Anderson, the William K. Lanman Jr. professor of sociology and author of “The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life.”

“You can take a person’s measure. You can see their humanity. That’s what people do under the canopy,” Anderson explains. “Without these spaces, we’d be even more isolated.”

Spirituality and Practice: Book Review: The Cosmopolitan Canopy

Spirituality and Practice: Book Review: By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

It is such a pleasure to read about a city lover walking around and enjoying the diversity evident in all the people sitting on benches in parks or congregating in shopping centers. Elijah Wood is the William K. Lanman, Jr. Professor of Sociology at Yale University. His first book Code of the Street was an award-winning examination of inner city violence. This acclaimed African-American sociologist returns to the city for this book, but looks at it from a different angle. (more…)