Culture News

The Warm Embrace—Rand Jassar

April 25, 2022

LMI Staff

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Graphic of mandalas with text that reads National Arab American Heritage Month

When I close my eyes and think of Iraq, I think of the tall palm trees kissing the skies and the warm sun hugging me as I play outside with the neighborhood kids. Growing up in Baghdad, I never imagined how big the world is or that I would one day become an American—an Arab American. 

As a child, one of my favorite days was Friday. Fridays marked the start of the weekend—it was the first day of the week where schools closed. My mother became a stay-at-home mom when we were kids, while my father worked for an electrical engineering company. 

Every Friday, my maternal grandparents hosted us in their home for dinner. It was a family tradition that included my uncles, aunts, and cousins. My grandmother did most of the cooking, as that was her favorite pastime. My grandfather made his infamous pickles and proudly presented a new jar every time we visited. My favorite dishes that my grandmother made were okra stew and dolma, a traditional Iraqi dish made of vegetables stuffed with ground lamb, spices, tomato sauce, and pomegranate molasses, then simmered to perfection. Walking into my grandparents’ home instantly made my mouth water, but the food was not the reason I liked Fridays. Rather, it was knowing that by the afternoon, I would get to hug my grandfather. I always felt loved and safe in his warm embrace. 

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Photo of palm trees in Iraq

Other than making his delicious pickles, my grandfather loved tending to his garden. It was a beautiful flower garden that he patiently watered and grew with passion. My mother often shared memories about the times she spent laying on the grass with my grandfather in that garden to tell stories. My grandparents were both Arabic literature teachers before they retired, so they are great storytellers. My grandfather is an avid reader and fostered my passion for reading and free writing. When I received my first journalism gig as a 17-year-old at the Chicago Tribune during the summer of my senior year in high school, my grandfather was the biggest cheerleader of my articles, big and small. 

Iraq was my home for the first nine years of my life. During the Iraq war, my family’s safety was no longer guaranteed due to the politics of the time. My parents made the ultimate sacrifice of leaving their home, families, and careers, seeking refuge and safety. We first moved to Kurdistan, then Syria, and finally the US. Navigating life in the US as a preteen was difficult at first, but over the years, Chicago became my home and the streets of Lincolnwood overshadowed my memory of our neighborhood in Iraq. But one thing did not fade away: my family—my grandmother’s laugh, my grandfather’s hug—all memories come flooding in when I close my eyes. I will always be proud of my heritage and of being an Arab American because I am proud of my family and my roots. 

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Photo of Rand Jassar with his family
The photos in this blog are of my grandparents first visit to the US in 2017.  It was the first time I had seen them in 11 years. The photos show my grandparents, uncle, aunt, cousins, sisters and me. 

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