Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Hidden in plain sight: Life as a mixed-Lebanese

Full piece on MiddleEastEye

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Mixed-race populations are a face of life in many countries today, but in Lebanon they are still an anomaly - one hidden in plain-sight. For decades the country's sons (and some daughters) have left their homeland in search of fortune across the African continent, forging businesses and careers abroad before returning to Lebanon. Now Lebanon is home to hundreds of thousands of migrant workers, toiling in factories or in homes. At home and abroad, marriages between Lebanese and foreigners have long been an inevitability. And now such unions are parent to a small community of mixed-race Lebanese. Card-carrying citizens of the cedar state, their global ancestry is often marked in the colour of their skin.

But while black and asian faces on the streets of Lebanon are common enough, little thought is paid to the idea that some could be Lebanese.

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Saab said his officers always treated him with respect and were often happy to chat in French, the language he was brought up speaking in Congo. But with his fellow soldiers, his experience couldn't have been more different. "There were provocations all the time, insulting me. Some people had a nickname for me, 'zifit' ['tar'], like the road. They'd say to each other, how can a dark be in the Lebanese army with us? It's impossible. How could his father marry a black woman?'"

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Saab has little hope that attitudes will change in Lebanon. But even if many in society are not of the same opinion, in the law and in his own mind, he is resolute, "I have a family here and I am Lebanese," he told me. "If I say it's not my home I would be surrendering. I don't want someone else telling me different." Pointing to his three children playing on the floor by his feet, he only had this to say, "I will always fight for them to be Lebanese."

"I am dark, and I am Lebanese."

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