Changing Visions of Ourselves > Between Two Worlds

Chicago

Saher Mawlawi

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Arab American Liaison, Chicago Commission on Human Relations

There are tensions between Arab grocers and the African American community. We try to mediate, to involve church leaders from the African American community. One situation ended up with members of the community marching against the store, so we were also mediating with the police and the alderman.

Some store owners are unethical; they sell loose cigarettes, which is illegal. They sell liquor to minors or expired products. This happens in every community. The tensions can turn into ethnic conflict. “Why are you stealing our jobs?” “Why can you get bank loans and we can’t?”

Some members of the African American community believe that the city brings in the Arab store owners and gives them tax breaks; that they exploit their own families by having them work in the store, that they make millions that they ship back home, that they won’t hire community members to work in their stores.

These are common prejudices and misunderstandings. They intensify in times of war.