Suhair Jasevicius

Transcript of Suhair Jasevicius
Interviewee: Suhair Jasevicius
Interviewer: Joe Okasheh, Brandy Norton, and Dorothy Nygren
Date: April 25, 2014
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Transcribers: Brandy Norton, Joe Okasheh
Total Time: 38:03 minutes

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

DN: Ok, so Joe, do you want to start off?

JO: My name is Joe. Today is April 25, 2014. I’ll be interviewing Suhair Jasevicius…

SJ: Jasevicius.

JO: Jasevicius and she comes from Palestine. Suhair, can you tell us about your earlier years in Palestine?

SJ: I mean I was born in Jerusalem. I will be happy to tell even the year, in 1949. And during that time in Palestine, you know they had the partition which I was born in East Jerusalem. And this part, Jordan, was taking care of that part, so geographically I was born in Palestine. But I also consider myself also Jordanian because I have my passport and [on] my birth certificate is written Jordan. But the location where I grow up, it’s actually Palestine, though we lived in Jordan because my father was working with the government so we moved to different cities. But my memory, we lived in Ramallah in a very charming city actually. It used to be like a summer resort where people they used to come in the summer there. Small, they have a lot of cafes, have hotels and everybody they know each other. It was very open society in a way. Christian, Muslim, they live together. No one ask about the religion of other person. My family and that, I am Muslim. We did, I mean, I have to say I’m lucky. We were not very conservative Muslim in that… but we learn, I mean the ethics and the good, to be a good person. We, I mean Christmas time, we honored our neighbor’s holiday and the Christians, they honored the Muslim holiday. Between Ramallah and Jerusalem, it’s only a matter of twenty minutes, so you’ll be walking in the old city and if you feel like going to the church to light the candle, you do that. Some of the Christians, if they feel like going to the Mosque, they will do that. So it was very open and really I feel I am really fortunate to grow in this kind of surrounding. Yeah.


JO: Is there any particular memories that you could remember about your childhood? Any good times, anything that stands out?

SJ: Oh yes, you know, we have like on Friday or Sunday we used to have I mean a hotel. It’s called the Grand Hotel in Ramallah. It used to be a really fun. Like every Friday afternoon, we would go there and it’s all surrounded by pine trees and really elegant place. And we sit there and they have like a gazebo and they used to have a band coming from Europe and all that music. The Italian, the French and so it’s a nice memory for me. And another memory is where it is so safe as kids we used to play outside. We used to go to collect all these little flowers, the white flowers. We didn’t have television, so we have to be outside and the weather, of course, is nice. So these are the memories I really cherished and yeah.


DN: You were telling us about listening to the radio, could you share that with us?

SJ: Yes. You know you’re in that… especially in the winter time. I mean we had our own apartment. And I have to note something. We didn’t have wealth like what we said “wealth” right now, you know. Everybody they live nice. Nice, simple life. You don’t have everyone: they have two cars. And so the social life is so important. And in the, for example when we, in the winter time, my father used to work, coming home, have our dinner and the main meal over there usually is the lunch. In the evening, we all wearing our pajamas and my father, his robe and we are…and we gather around the radio. And I remember these moments until now. And we sit and everybody is listening to the radio and we listen to the Thousand and One Nights, and Scheherazade. We have our heater. We put our chestnut and if we want, we pick his own chestnut. And, for me, I mean when I listened to the radio and to these stories, I think I developed a sense of imagination. I mean, I create this image in my mind and actually it helped me until now. I do have very good imagination [laughs]. So, so this moment, I mean the family gathering, it’s really in my heart. Yes…


DN: Brandy, did you want to ask the next question?

BN: How did you come to Edgewater? Like how did you end up here?

SJ: It’s you know, after 1967. I mean, I witnessed a war, the Six Days War. My parents divorced. I was maybe thirteen, fourteen. And after the school we lived with my mother, my sister. I have, actually I have… we are five. I am the youngest in the family. And my oldest sister came to the United States and I have a brother and another brother. Now they are here in the United States and one sister who lives in Jordan. So in 1972, I came to Chicago and to stay with my sister, the one here in Chicago. And she used to live here in Chicago. And then I met my husband. Four years and then we get married. We bought condominium here and we have been living here. We have been married for thirty…it would be actually on May 17, thirty-nine years. So it’s not easy, I mean you have to keep maintenance on the marriage [laughs]. And that’s the way we lived here and we love this area.

BN: Was there a particular thing that drew you to this area?


SJ: I don’t know, I mean it just happened that time and [shrugs]. We decided to live here and we stayed and we like it. We love the beach. We love the University. Loyola University. The transportation is very good. And it’s a neighborhood and people they know each other. I know most of the people when I’m walking in the street. I know their dogs. I enjoy, I mean just walking going to Loyola. It’s really wonderful.

DN: Are you involved in any groups or organizations in Edgewater since you’ve been there so long, like a church or….?


SJ: Not really. I am involved with other organizations, Chicago International Women Associate. Also, I am student at Loyola University. I, I went back to school. I’m old, you know. And I graduated in 2007 and I’m still taking courses and I study. And so when there is some events or something at Loyola I like to get involved and [nods].

DJ: It sounds as though you have a full life of things you’re involved in.

SJ: I mean when you’re married for thirty-nine years and you have a husband, he is retired; it is a full time [laughs]. Yes, I mean, I whatever I can do, I would love to.


DN: Joe, do you have a…

JO: You said earlier that your husband is of Lithuanian descent and he was born in Germany or raised in Germany

SJ: Correct.

JO: Now your husband being an immigrant and yourself being an immigrant, how did you guys meet?

SJ: Well that’s when I came to United States, to Chicago actually, and I…My husband is a fashion photographer and commercial photographer. And that time, he used to work at Fulbright Studio. I was younger that time, I was twenty-three, twenty-four and I was thinking maybe I can do some modeling, so then I met him through you know, through the work. I did work also at Fulbright Studio. That’s my first job. I mean and it was interesting for me because I came to Chicago in June and I start working like in September or in October, so it was new to me. And I met this handsome Lithuanian, I mean and I fall in love with him here we are, and that’s the way I met him.


JO: Now that you live in Edgewater, are there any practices or traditions that you keep from, from Palestine?

SJ: Tradition?

DN: Food or…

SJ: Yes. You know, I came when I was twenty-three, as I mentioned, you know you are rooted apparently with your heritage. Until today, every day I have to make my coffee. My, it’s Turkish coffee, Greek coffee, whatever they want to call it. This is, it’s a ritual for me. I enjoy sitting there, my own coffee. I have my small cup, which is I have it for so many years. I sit there and I have my breakfast and to me, this is like meditation, yes. Second, certain food, I of course, vegetables, salads, this is more Mediterranean food. I mean, of course certain….Well it’s not tradition. I like music. I like to listen to all kind of music. I still like to put some of my Arabic music, the old one to listen to it. And I think what we learn; I mean as immigrant, from each culture, there is something good and something bad. And I would say, take what you like and leave the rest. So I took what’s the best, I think from my culture and I took from what is the best from the American culture and I made it my own. And of course, because my husband also is immigrant, so there is, there is a link between me and him that’s you know, I will call it the immigrant link. And that certain things we like similar, although he comes from Europe, I come from the Middle East, certain music we like the same. So yes, we do, we have, I mean our own home culture.


DN: I’m curious about what you said taking the best from your Arabic culture and the best from American culture and putting them together, I think that’s wonderful. What are some of the things you feel that are important to bring from your Arabic culture?

SJ: I think hospitality. You know, we are, I mean. For example, there is a generosity, generosity in food, generosity in greeting the people. I mean what I call it, public etiquette. And for example, if you come to our home and I’m just serving dinner and you are my neighbor and immediately I say come on have dinner with us. Even if you want to drop something in mail for me or I say come have a cup of coffee or if you like grab a glass of wine. You know, it’s that giving. And from the American culture, I like very much when they said individuality. You do things for yourself, too. I enjoy very much walking alone. And I think, back home, I don’t know how is it now, but if you walk alone or you do things alone, they said what’s wrong with that person? Because you always need to have friends, you always need to have your family. Here, I like that you’re to be yourself. If I’m walking wearing my jeans and wearing a t-shirt or that, it’s fine. Over there, you still, you still, you have to worry what are the people going to say about you. So that’s, I mean, good I eliminate it. I respect very much the American culture in many ways. I think they are kind people. And they are helpful, too, I mean in United States.


DN: Joe, oh I guess it’s Brandy’s turn.

BN: Do you feel, I mean it seems like you do, but do you feel at home here? Do you feel American?

SJ: Yes. But if we’re going to define if I feel American…yes and no. I feel, I lived here for…I have been living here for forty-one years, yes, this is my home. The only time I feel a little bit, when I be someplace and someone will tell me, they will look at me as I don’t belong from here, you know. I mean, from what country are you, I mean and you still have an accent. Of course, I have an accent, I came when I’m twenty-three years old. I cannot change my accent and I’m not really willing to change it. Sometimes, some people make me feel that I am, you know, I am not American. And another thing, I think when it comes to politics and if I put my input for certain things I don’t agree what is going, what is happening in our country here, they will look at me and I heard it sometimes, if you don’t like this country, you can leave. And this is not right. And….

DN: I agree with you.

SJ: I am not criticizing this country because I don’t like this country; I criticize it because it’s my country. So, these, you know there are some situations where the feeling like, you know, belong or not belong. And the same if I will go to Jordan or I go there, I don’t belong there, too. It’s my memories, I carry it in my heart, but my experience for forty-one years that’s belong to me, regardless where I live, that’s mine. So that’s, no I’m, most of the time, yes, I do feel, I mean, I belong home, to this country. And what is so beautiful in our area here, because we have so many immigrants, so we have our own Americanized way. So you go to different groups and from people where they don’t have that many immigrants, yes, you feel like they make you feel like you are outsider. Here, in this area, no, I don’t feel I am an outsider in that.

DN: Do you have any other questions, Joe?


JO: How often do you still use your native tongue, Arabic, in Edgewater, the community, if you use it at all?

SJ: Sometimes, at Loyola, when I see a Middle Eastern student, I will talk to them. I mean, here, no, except if I meet someone they are from that region, I will speak Arabic. Of course, I mean when I talk to my family, my brother, my sister, yes, we speak Arabic. There are certain phrases I don’t know how to say it in Arabic, because certain experience I have here for forty-one years, I really don’t know what the term for it is. So it’s, I have like two, you know I have to keep shifting in my mind. And, yes I…


DN: When you want to express strong feeling what language do you think about?

SJ: Ok it depends of the feeling and of the situation. If there is a feeling…let’s say… with my husband in my mind or if I don’t want him to understand I will say it in Arabic of course. (Background chuckle) There are certain also expression in Arabic where you really can not translate it in English. It’s really comes deep from your, from your heart or from your guts so both ways but mostly in Arabic.


DN: Do you have any traditional foods from Jordan that you still continue to cook? Or are or Lithuanian food that are special to your husband that are special for the two of you or restaurants that you enjoy. Or would you say that your, other than your coffee in the morning, that your cuisine is more cosmopolitan?

SJ: The thing with cosmopolitan. I have to make it clear I am not I am not much of a good cook. Like easy does it….But real tradition I mean Palestinian meal and I don’t cook anymore I used to. I used to make grape leaves I used to make certain food now.I t’s more easy food. I try to make Lithuanian food of course.

There are restaurants when we want to eat like falafel or that. Yeah, we go. There are some restaurants downtown, like Kan Zaman, or by Foster. They have, you know, some restaurants there. And you know, with time actually, with time, you will start losing a little bit the taste. Once in a while I will have it come to my mind, or that taste… Like I have the taste for okra, for example, or I have a taste for uh….Yeah. Yes, if it’s in front of me, I will eat. Luckily I have a brother here where his wife she loves to cook. So you know, we go by them I eat my Middle Eastern food. And I don’t know. It’s once in a while I will make something really like Arabic food when we have guests coming. So I will make lamb shank, for example, leg of lamb. I make it really good. Certain…Chicken, yes. I use them more in the Middle Eastern cooking. American cooking? Of course I don’t know what is the American cuisine. We don’t have specific American cuisine to my understanding. If I was going to making hamburger, for example, I would add my Middle Eastern ingredients – parsley, things like that….And yes, I think it’s a mix [the food].

DN: I’d like to also to go back to the mix of your marriage. You said your husband is Lithuanian and you’re from Jordan. Is your husband Muslim?

SJ: No He’s Catholic, Christian.

DN: Christian, so in terms of making the adjustment in your marriage, was that also an effort or did it just flow naturally because of the tolerance that you were speaking before?


SJ: As I mentioned before I did not grow up in very much strict family. And actually my father for… at that time I think he was very opened minded. I never forget when I was a young girl. And I think maybe I was twelve, thirteen, thirteen years old. I think the neighbor was nice young boy and…and I was asking my father. I said, “Dad, if I…. Is it okay if one of these days that I marry a Christian?” and he looked at me and I never forget his answer. He said, “Our neighbors, they are Christian. We visit them and they visit us. So what’s the big deal of marrying” I find it very opened minded of….

So when I came here and I met my husband and so on I get the blessing from my mother and my father and no one said a word that he should convert to Islam or that we get married. We get married in that time we had Arab League here. We had Office and the person who was in charge, his name was Hassan Abdulla. He had the authority to marry, you know, as a councilor or that. So we had a nice party at home and he came. And we did a little ceremony and of course you registered at the city hall and so on. It was fine. And at home.

I think from my part because I…I went to a Catholic School. I grew up in surroundings with Christianity and that is normal for me. So it wasn’t any stranger. And from my husband’s part…because his family lives in Germany. And so the first time we went to visit after we get married to Germany, I think my husband was a little bit worried with his mother because she was very good catholic you know but in a great way. We really link really good together. And his family in Germany - his sister - they are like a sister to me. And same in his part. My family is like a family to him.

And I do my prayer in the morning. I really enjoy, like even in my heart, reading from the Quran I…So I am my own way I walk. I can go to the church. I can sit and I do my prayer there and walking by the lake and I do my prayer there. So whatever is inside me towards the Divine, I find it. I can practice it everywhere and I think when it comes to religion the main thing is to be good to each other. I’m thinking, yeah.

DN: So your own marriage is the living example of the ability to form tolerance and acceptance of other people in the midst of a world that is constantly going crazy.

SJ: You know I think, I don’t know if I’m… like when they say the word “tolerance” or we have to have interfaith or all of them. I think they have these languages. I don’t know. I think they all have to be tolerant or not. It’s something natural, something you respect. To me, if I like… want to tolerate. Meaning this person is irritating me and I have to…you know to be tolerant.


But if a person is Christian or Muslim or that, I have to respect it. I don’t have to believe 100 percent with what they believe that there’s… in that….It’s the same thing with people. Whatever I believe - that belongs to me. As soon as I am not hurting you and you are not hurting me and we respect each other - that is what to me what that comes to …. So yes I think that our action, it speaks more instead of preaching I am a good Muslim or I am a good Christian or I am that.. How do I deal? In everyday life, towards another human being, towards the animals, towards the plants, towards everything around me? And if I have respect to every little thing in this universe, then I feel I am good. And so that comes with wisdom. I mean years. That’s wisdom.


JO: With your husband being of Christianity and you being Islam, do you still practice Ramadan?

SJ: No I will have to say. I did before just years ago my home is not like the family they force it on us. And no I don’t I…I respect people. They…they, you know, observe Ramadan and so on. For me I feel first of all…. It doesn’t make sense to me right now and I’m not saying the others are not right. I mean I respect them me personally. I feel like I don’t have to be hungry all day and to have discipline. I mean I discipline myself in other things. I mean we have to be moderate; not to over eat not to over doing things.

And I think that we have to understand in every tenet to me in Islam Why? Why? For example, God said for us to do it and this is another subject. We don’t. You know? So I have my own belief and yet I respect people. They do, you know, they observe Ramadan and they do their religiosity the way they want. The religion the way they want too.

BN: You were saying you are a student at Loyola, can you tell us a little bit more about your experience there?


SJ: My experience, I am still experiencing. I never went to finish that, Loyola is like my home really. First of all, if you would like, I can tell you the story of how it happened. I mean… (Pause) We don’t have children my husband and I. And when I came to United States…. And then started working with Ameri-Arab Chamber of Congress for years. And then later on, I work with Perckans and Earl. They are an agricultural firm - until the ‘90s, you know, and then when my job was finished.

It’s always in my heart that I like school, though I was very bad student in school when I was a little girl. So you know I have some dyslexia that time. They don’t know about this. My husband and I, we used to walk towards Loyola because like by the campus. And in the beginning of every year the student….Either I would be working. And I would tell my husband, “I wish I had a daughter to be among the students you know.” That’s really in my heart. And then when I finish that job, I have a really good friend. Her name is Connie. She was the secretary at Loyola, an older lady, and we were really close friends. And I was telling-sharing with her. She said, “Why didn’t you take a course in Loyola?” So I went. I register for the course for communication. Of course it was audit and I find later on I wanted to take another course. And I went to Mundelein, talking to the dean of Mundelein. And he said, “Why didn’t you enroll to get a degree?” Honest! He’s telling me. In my mind, I’m saying, “He must be joking, this man. He is talking for me to get degree. Impossible.” I said, “Fine.” So here we are. I can go over whatever documents we need. And I enroll and to me it was the most beautiful struggle. You know there is a struggle, and a struggle. But me… that was for me and every course I took at Loyola… It’s a blessing for me. It was very difficult. I have to deal with the language. I have to deal with the shortcoming I have.


I have to deal with, you know, to adjust going to school and I’m sitting with kids who are 18 years old. I was in my middle 45-46. Every paper we have to write… I have to started writing three weeks ahead of time. And I really called myself the beggar: a beggar in the sense I always have to find someone to help me to correct my paper. And I wasn’t shy about it. And it made me to be humble.

And I established not only getting my education. I established a good relation with young people who are eighteen, nineteen. Where we don’t have children, as I mention, they be…. I get the best when I am becoming friends with these young people. I become an image like a mother for them. And we became friends; like they’re telling me things they don’t tell their mother, or their parents. It was really beautiful- every course I taken. It was wonderful. That’s in my heart. It was so close. And this is where I think… this area gave me being, living next to Loyola University.

And the university is a wonderful university. It’s not only that you get a education. It really shaped my thinking. I think it made me aware of the bigger picture. And if I want to say it, every time I used to enter the school… and then I said, you know God. I can see you from different dimensions and here we are together through this path and I know I was happy. I graduated in 2007. I took two majors.

(36:40) Majors like in Theology; one is Religion Studies and Minor in Islamic Studies. So I can now… I mean, I don’t want to use the word “proud,” but I think everybody from my friends….Everybody - they contributed to my… to this path that I took.

DN: Sounds like it was a blessing for all of you.

SJ: And I’m really…. It’s…. Until now, it’s really deep in my heart.

DN: I really think that’s all the questions we have. Is there anything that you’d like to add to this interview because it’s your story? Is there anything else that you would like to share before we stop?


SJ: I think I like to see the young people, I mean, to be more aware of their surroundings. I know we have a lot of technology now: a lot of telephones, a lot of that. To not to miss the beauty. Not to miss it, because youth only comes once in your life and to enjoy every minute and to be a good human being. To everything around us. That’s what I like to… that’s my story.