English Feature #7-36027 Broadcast March 11, 2002
Six months ago today terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington. Today on New American Voices we introduce you to an Arab-American soldier who set up a group to spotlight the patriotism of Arab Americans who serve in the U.S. military.
In the aftermath of the attacks of September 11th, 2001, Staff Sergeant Jamal Baadani launched an organization called APAAM - the Association of Patriotic Arab Americans in the Military. His goal was to educate Americans about the contributions and loyalty of Arab Americans serving in the armed forces. He says the backlash against Arabs in the United States after September 11th not only galvanized him into action -- it also affected his two teenage daughters.
"They're confused. My youngest daughter, who's thirteen, actually tells me that she's not Arabic, she tells me that she's Hispanic. Because of what's going on after September 11th she doesn't understand, so she's ashamed right now. But I think one day, especially with my cause, with APAAM, and being in the forefront to educate Americans, she'll realize that it's okay to be proud to be an Arab-American. My older daughter, she has blue eyes and blond hair, but she knows that she's Arabic, and she understands the plight and the fight that we have."
Sergeant Baadani was born in Egypt of Yemeni parents. He came to the United States at age 10 to join his father, who had immigrated not long after Jamal was born.
"When I first came I didn't speak English, I was very small because of the malnutrition in the Middle East, so I had a lot of kids that beat me up, that harassed me, because they didn't know who I was."
But he says he gradually made friends who helped him learn the language and adapt to the customs and culture of his new country.
"By the time I was sixteen I was like any other teenager, I was dating, I played sports, and then I joined the Marine Corps at 17, because I really wanted to tell America 'Thank you for having me here in America.' And so that was my way of contributing.
Only a year after enlisting in the Marines, eighteen-year-old Jamal Baadani was sent on his first combat tour - to Beirut, Lebanon.
"It tested my resolve, being an Arab and being an American. But it really didn't take long for me to know and to understand in my mind that I was representing my country, America, and that even if the enemy is Arabic, so be it, because THIS is my country."
Jamal Baadani spent 10 more years on active duty and saw combat again in the Gulf War. Now he serves in the Marine Reserves in California. Sergeant Baadani says that in the military, he got to know people of all colors, races, religions.
"The godfather of my children is a black American, and he's in the Marine Corps. My black American friends, and my Hispanic American friends, my American friends who are white - what we realize is that this fight that we're having right now, that's put Arab-Americans in the forefront after 9-11, is a fight for the identity of Americans. This fight that goes on isn't just for Arab Americans. When you put us together, we're all American, and one day, I think one day it's all going to come together and people's eyes are going to open up and they'll say, you know what, we have to live with tolerance."
As president of the Association of Patriotic Arab Americans, Sergeant Baadani hopes to reach all the approximately three and a half thousand Arab-Americans now serving in the armed forces. The organization has a website (http://www.apaam.org) featuring its activities and profiling some of its members. In January, the National Immigration Forum - a Washington-based organization that supports immigration - honored Sergeant Baadani as an "immigrant of inspiration". Receiving his award at a ceremony recognizing immigrants who had been courageous on and after September 11th, Staff Sergeant Baadani summarized what being an American means to him.
"I'm here in front of you, privileged to wear this U.S. Marine Corps uniform to say 'Thank you, America. Thank you for giving my family and I a place to call home. Thank you for giving my family and my children the opportunity to be free.'"
Next week we'll continue our series of profiles of Voice of America broadcasters. You'll meet Tuck Outhuok, whose journey to VOA's Khmer Service led through the killing fields of Cambodia.