Hazar Kasis January 20, 2013 Syriac Catholic Church Jacksonville, Florida Esam Alhadi, Interviewer and Translator for University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries Edited by Jardee Transcription Also present, Richard Saltzburg Alhadi: Hello, Mrs. Hazar Kasis. We are happy to have this interview with you this afternoon. We are here in the Catholic Syriac Church in Jacksonville. My name is Esam Alhadi and this is my colleague Richard. We are from the University of Florida. This interview is being conducted as part of the program that aims to document the life and professional experiences of the Arab immigrants who live in Florida. We are happy that you agreed to take part in this program. It is now 1:00 PM and today is Sunday, January 20, 2013. Thank you one more time, Mrs. Hazar Kasis, for agreeing to give us this interview. We usually begin by asking for a brief history of the early phase of your life including your education before coming to America. Kasis: Hello and welcome to you. My name is H azar Kasis, and I currently live in Jacksonville, Florida. I was born in Damascus and lived th ere up to age fourteen. I had my education in a private Sisters School in Damascus. I had a typical and normal happy childhood. I and my family left Damascus for America in 1981. We came here for different purposes. One of these was to find medical treatment for one of the family members. I came here when I was in the eleventh grade. I wasted no time and went direc tly to school. I had no problem with the transition because I studied languages when I was back in Damascus. The fact that I came here when I was stil l young helped me too to pick up the English language very quickly. I jo ined a public school here.
Alhadi: Did you move from Damasc us directly to Jacksonville? Kasis: We came straight to Jacksonville because my father had some of his relatives living here. We thought this was an opportunity to have pe ople nearby to guide a nd direct us during our early days here. Alhadi: Have you been livi ng in Jacksonville since 1981? Kasis: I moved to the Gulf Region [Saudi Arab ia] after getting married, and lived there for ten years. I returned to Jacks onville ten years ago because my three children reached an age when I thought it would be better for them to be here. I also came back to Jacksonville because my family was still living here. Alhadi: Tell us a little bit about your education. What did you study and when did you graduate? Kasis: I did a two year associate degree in mark eting at what used to be called Florida Junior College [currently FCCJ] here in Jacksonville. I was also working for a bank while I was in school. I continued to work fo r the same bank for eight years. Alhadi: What bank was that? Kasis: It is currently called Wells Fargo, but back in the day it was known as First Union. I stopped working after I got married. This shows that my educational experience was very short here, because I had to work. Alhadi: What kind of work did you do in the bank? Kasis: I started as a teller a nd then moved to the commercial department. I moved to different departments because the bank was the provider of my educational fees. The condition was that they could use me in any department if needed. However, I had to leave after getting married.
Alhadi: Did you ever go back to school to continue beyond your two-ye ar period in college? Kasis: No. I moved to Saudi Arabia where I ha d no opportunity to go to school. However, I had the opportunity to work while I was there. Alhadi: Tell us a little bit about your work experience in Saudi Arabia. Kasis: I worked for a private foreign school. I was teaching the Arabic language for children three to seven years old, for three years. I later worked for a bigger school and became a second-grade teacher for five years. I taugh t all subjects. That was in Riyadh. The school was called King Khalid School. Alhadi: What year did you go to Riyadh? Kasis: We went there in 1989. That is the same year when I got married. I stayed there until the year 2000. Alhadi: Did you visit any other countr y in the Gulf besides Saudi Arabia? Kasis: No. We have onl y been to Saudi Arabia. Alhadi: Did you used to go to Syri a when you were in Saudi Arabia? Kasis: I used to spend every summer in Syria and every Christmas in Jacksonville. We decided at that time to establish ourselves in Syri a more, and for that reason we bought a property there. The idea was to go there when we retire and when the children grew and became independent. We are still considering this idea, but it is currently on hold. Alhadi: What did you do after returning back to America? Kasis: My family owns a chain of five restau rants here in Jacksonvill e. I was doing the office work for them. This includes the paperwork related to hiring and personnel. When my husband moved from the hospital where he used to work to a private practice, I joined
him as an office manager in his medical practi ce. I have been doing this as a full-time job for the past eight years. Alhadi: Where is his office? Kasis: It is here in Jacksonville. Alhadi: What is your husbandÂ’s field of specialty? Kasis: He is in the internal medicine and car diology field. Alhadi: That means you no longer have a nything to do with the restaurant work? Kasis: I have never in my life done any restau rant work. I was doing office work. I no longer do it. It was an informal job for me. I was just helping my family. I was also doing it because I am used to working. It was to keep me busy. I am now doing office management work in my husbandÂ’s clinic. The older my children grow, the more time becomes available for me to work. Currentl y, two of my children are in college and one is still at home. Alhadi: What do your children study? Kasis: The eldest one will graduate this comi ng May from Florida State University. He just started the process to apply for law school. We are not sure where he will go for law school. The other one is a juni or at Wake Forest Universi ty. He is doing biology. He will do the MCAT and follow on his fatherÂ’s path. My youngest daughter is a freshman at a Catholic high school here in Jacksonville. Alhadi: Let me ask you about a statement th at you made earlier about your transition from Damascus to Jacksonville. You said that you had no language problem at all. Would you elaborate on this?
Kasis: I did not have any seri ous language problem. There mi ght have been minor problems, but nothing serious. I went to a French school in Damascus and that gave me a very solid foundation in French. English was my third language. I came with a good idea. I was familiar with the alphabet and the Latin words. Alhadi: Do you still speak French? Kasis: I do speak it sometimes. I can understand ev erything that I hear. My major problem is in the grammar area. My biggest problem here was to fit into the school culture. It was totally new to me. This is due to the different system here. In Syria, we used to sit in one class and every one of the teachers comes in to deliver their classes. Here, students move from one room to another. I also had to familiarize myself with the locker room regulations that we didnÂ’t have in Syria. I wa s active in sports when I was back in Syria, but I didnÂ’t know that it was so big a thing in schools here. The first time I heard about a yearbook in a homeroom announcement made me puzzled because I never heard of a yearbook before. The next day everybody came to school well-dressed for the yearbook picture except me because I had no Idea what I needed to do. It took me a year to begin to get accustomed to the school environment and to understand things such as mascots, cheerleading and sport scholarships. Alhadi: Of course your children had no such a problem because they started their education here. Kasis: They had no problem at all. However, we always remind them that they are Syrians who are living the American lifestyle. Alhadi: Let me ask you if your children speak Arabic.
Kasis: They can speak, read, and write in Arabic The oldest two starte d their Arabic study in Saudi Arabia. They studied at Choueifat Sc hool in both Arabic and English. My eldest son who is trying to get into law school is currently taking Arabic at FSU. My younger daughter took some Arabic courses at this chur ch. They used to offer classes here every Saturday by a Syrian female teacher. Alhadi: Do you use Arabic or English to communicate with them at home? Kasis: We talk to them in Arabic and they unde rstand everything we say. We ask of them to be able to read the newspaper. However, they communicate with each other only in English. Alhadi: Can you tell us a little bit about the Ar ab womenÂ’s community here in Jacksonville? How do they manage their relations with the wider American community, and what contributions do they offer? Kasis: It would be possible to classify the Ar ab women here into diffe rent categories. One category includes those who refuse to even have the minimum leve l of immersion into the wider American society. Another group includes those who have fully immersed themselves in the American society and completely lost their Arab identity. The children of the latter group donÂ’t speak any Arabic. This goes back to the suffering they had when they were trying to fit in. There is a third group which I th ink I belong to. This group tries to adopt the best out of each communit y. This has always been my advice to my children: take the best f eatures of the two communities and make that the way you manage your life. Many of the Arab ladies are very effective. Howeve r, it is also a fact that many refuse to even entertain the idea of having any level of immersion into the American society. I believe this is wrong. I know many people who are here who donÂ’t
speak any English. This is utterly wrong. I am not talking about the Syrian community only. This applies to all Arab communities. Alhadi: Is it possible to comp are the number of Arab women who have jobs and those who chose to be stay-at-home housewives? Wh ich group is bigger as far as you know? Kasis: In the light of the harsh economic conditions and also in the light of the recent wave of immigrants during the past four or five year s, many find themselves forced to work. It may be hard to work in their field of academic specialty. Many of them are doing private work either on their own or with their husbands. The desire to work is growing. Alhadi: You mentioned earlier th at you kept a close relationship w ith Syria when you were back in Saudi Arabia. Are you still main taining the same level of contact? Kasis: I used to go every summer for two and a ha lf months. However, I havenÂ’t been able to go during the past two years. I still have relatives there. My family decided to go back to Syria after thirty years of living here. Howe ver, they had to come back here after the recent events broke out. Alhadi: We are very happy to listen to these grea t and impressive experiences. This recording will be saved for life. Thank you, Mrs. Hazar, for being with us today. Kasis: Thank you. [END OF INTERVIEW]