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Arabs and Americans: Similar Dreams and Fears By: Rima Merhi

The more Americans I speak to, the more I realize that Americans are as diverse as Arabs, and Arabs frequently make the mistake of thinking that the grass is greener on the other side.

Four Americans share their story:

1- Only a revolution will clear the financial hurricane

“What America needs to get out of this financial crisis is a communist revolution,” said Jane Sullivan, a patient care assistant at a local hospital in Cambridge. “The crisis is not about bailing the people out, it’s about bailing the system out,” she added. In her spare time, Jane volunteers with the Revolution newspaper, voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, by spreading the ideology of the party and giving free copies of the Revolution newspaper to people on the street.

Jane believes that the prevailing financial crisis represents “the biggest loss for people of color in the country,” highlighting that blacks and Latinos are worst hit by the subprime mortgage crisis. She explained that investment banks pushed these mortgages on Latinos and blacks, with the full knowledge that they simply will not be able to pay for them. “We need to change these greedy people on Wall Street,” Jane said.

As a result of the financial crisis, Jane’s working hours have been cut from 32 hours/ 4 working days to 22 hours/ three working days at a local hospital in Cambridge. She is no longer able to save any money and lives from one pay check to the other. “Our union representative feels sorry for the hospital, not the employees, would you believe?” She said with dismay, and explained that during these harsh economic times, people were simply afraid to speak up for fear of losing their jobs.

“These journalism schools you attend train you in their line of thinking. We need to get the truth out. We need a revolution to end the exploitation of the capitalist system. This is a great time for America to talk about communism. Communism didn’t fail in Russia or China, these countries never got past socialism,” Jane concluded.

2- The market has no rhythm or reason

I approached him on the street eager to get a black man’s perspective of the financial crisis, and was delighted to learn that he works for JP Morgan Chase & Co.

In as much as I was eager to speak to him, he was reluctant to respond to me. I had to promise him anonymity before he agreed to give me five minutes of his time. For purposes of this article, I will call him Mark.

Mark immigrated to America when he was ten years old. He was born in Africa and holds a master in banking and finance from Boston University. “When I was in college, I thought I would study finance because that’s where I would earn the big bucks, and live the American dream,” he said with sarcasm.

Then he quickly and abruptly added, “But JP Morgan & CO has weathered the crisis. We have weathered the crisis,” he repeated, clearly reluctant to make any further comment about his work or the company.

“I watched the presidential campaign last night. Neither Obama nor McCain get it. The truth is the market has no rhythm or reason. You simply cannot decipher what the market will do,” he said.

Mark pointed out that many finance graduates leave college with the unrealistic expectation that they can predict market behavior with their financial acumen- “simply not the case, and that’s what the real world taught me,” he said.

Mark highlighted that the real problem is a financial system that layers so many levels of ignorance. It begins with the consumer who does not take a minute to do something as simple as read the terms and conditions of a loan, all the way to banks that purchase millions of dollars worth of investments without proper risk evaluation, and ends with experts in key financial positions who simply rely on the system, and one that is clearly failing, he pointed out as he mumbled an apology and grabbed the first taxi to make it in time for his next meeting.

3- Hope in Obama’s Financial Plan

Maureen Alves is the supervisor at Dudley Café in Harvard University and the mother of two children.

“This financial crisis has meant that the price of oil has gone up by almost 100%. I pay $600 just for heating my house. Given that I am supporting two kids, and I recently bought a second house with my boyfriend, the mess in Wall Street has certainly found its way to our front porch.”
Maureen pointed out that perhaps the hardest part is being forced to say “no” to the kids to many items that were previously within the budget, including a weekly pizza or simply pocket money to watch a movie over the weekend. “We have to stick to the essentials or…,” raising her hands in the air in exasperation without completing the sentence.

Maureen lives with her boyfriend and two kids in one house and rents the other house. “The mortgage crisis is rough,” she confessed, “but I haven’t been able to raise the rent, even though I need the extra cash, because our tenants are also in a tight financial situation.”

Maureen described the last presidential debate as “a load of crap. The candidates need to stop bickering, but I dare to hope that Obama’s plan will get us out of this crisis.” Maureen explained that although she did not really grasp the details of the financial plans proposed by both candidates, she felt that “being raised by a single mum and coming from a less privileged background, Obama is in a better position to understand middle class families.”

Maureen remarked that when McCain was younger, times in America where very different and added that given he has a “wealthy wife,” he would not understand the challenges faced by young couples in America today.

Maureen thanked God that Harvard had neither cut her salary nor working hours. Her boyfriend also worked at Harvard, and he had also been grateful that his salary and benefits were unaffected by the crisis.

“I really have my fingers crossed for Obama,” she concluded, “and on the worst day, I just remember to count my blessings because I know there are a lot of people worse off than myself.”

4- I want to go back to China

“I don’t know what I am doing in this country,” says Han. “I want to go back to China.”
Han immigrated to the USA more than twelve years ago and works as a caretaker for one of the buildings owned by Harlow Properties in Cambridge.

“It’s not only about the financial crisis,” he said. “It’s about the rising cost of living in this city. I send my family in China a third of what I used to send them ten years ago. ”

Han remembered the days when he used to fish in the river in Guilin with nostalgia. “We were always poor, but at least in China there was peace in my heart. It was spiritually rich,” he said, unable to find the words to describe his thoughts as his eyes watered. Despite living so many years in the USA, Han continues to find it difficult to adapt to American consumerist culture.

Last week, an older woman in the building had a heart attack. Han described her as a chain smoker, and said she was always complaining about the rent and cost of heating. Apparently, she was not able to pay the rent for the last two months. “It’s not about the financial crisis,” Han repeated, “It’s about life in America. Would you believe that her brother lives up the road, and the poor woman came back from hospital three days ago and no one knocked her door yet? It’s sad,” said Han, explaining that there were many problems in China, but at least one could depend on his family for love and support.

Han noticed that over the last year, more and more students moving into the building were asking him to find them second hand furniture and appliances. Han remarked that given most students in the building pay one thousand five hundred dollar rent and above, it was not surprising that many simply could not afford to buy new furniture, particularly during these harsh economic times.

There had also been numerous complaints from tenants about the rising cost of oil for heating, but Harlow Properties was unable to cut down the cost by spending less, due to the brutally cold winters in Boston.

“I don’t know what brought me to the US,” confided Dan, “but this is certainly not what I had in mind when I packed my bags more than ten years ago. This country will make a hole in my heart, not my pocket,” he said as he pounded his chest repeatedly with his hand. “I dream to go back to Guilin and be a fisherman again. Ay, those were the good old days,” he finished.



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One Response

  1. Rima Merhi می‌گوید:

    Thank you for posting an article from my blog but I kindly ask you to repost it with amendments I made so others do not copy the first draft. You copied it within seconds of me posting it:) because I edited it in ten minutes after publishing thanks a lot


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