Changing Visions of Ourselves > Between Two Worlds


Camille Odeh

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Director, Southwest Youth Collaborative

The Arab experience in Chicago is very tied to the Palestinian community, because it is the largest in Chicago. It is a relatively new community in the US – as compared to, say, Syrians. The time the community has been here is also tied to issues of acculturation and assimilation.

Palestinians in Chicago include more people from the West Bank and more people who were displaced in 1948. Betunia and Ramallah are both heavily linked to Chicago. Gaza is much poorer, and it’s harder for people to get to the US.

The Palestinian experience is also different because it is a community in exile. People experience themselves as exiles. Palestine has no passport, no ID. It underlines the Palestinian experience as stateless. Other immigrants, like Syrians, hold passports from their country of origin – they can return.

The Palestinian experience of exile also shapes their ties with their homeland – including physical ties, by going back and visiting; sending money; building houses over there; calling their family on the phone. Sometimes, when people can’t visit because they don’t have the right kind of ID card, they’ll send their children to visit.

These connections affect both the national and the spiritual aspect, which affects how children are raised. The Palestinian community tends to be more conservative and also more secluded, because they want to preserve their identity.