Despite escalating conflict, Latinas in Middle East live their lives, raise families

Patty Ramirez, a Mexican-American from Laredo, Texas, lives with her husband and family quite far from the Lone Star State – in Beirut, Lebanon.

And as the war in Syria rages and spills over into her adopted country, Ramirez does worry about the increasing violence.  Yet she and a group of other Latina women who live in Beirut are not planning to leave, despite their constant fears of outbreaks of violence and the safety of their children.

“We are afraid for the kids,” she said.  ”When they’re teenagers and they have cars, they leave. You can’t control them,” added Ramirez, whose 16-year-old and 18-year-old go bar hopping often. “Sometimes there are shootings and they don’t answer their phone. You panic and you don’t know where to start looking for your kids,” she said.

Ramirez has evacuated Lebanon four times during the 18 years she has lived there. Ramirez moved from Laredo, Texas to Paris when she was 14 years-old, after her father was appointed Customs Attaché at the American Embassy. While in high school, she met Maher Zeidan, whose family had fled Lebanon escaping the Lebanese Civil War. After dating for some time, they got married and moved to Beirut in 1996.

“It wasn’t a culture shock… people are very much like Latinos. They are very family oriented,” said Ramirez. Marrying a non-practicing Muslim, was not difficult. It was learning what his conservative family expected of her that was challenging; her mother-in-law wears a veil and her grandfather-in-law was a sheik.

Ramirez enjoys Lebanon and is not packing her bags and leaving because of recent violence. “It’s good because it’s a small country and everyone knows each other,” she said.

Security in Lebanon has deteriorated since the Syrian uprising began in March of 2011. According to the UN, there are close to 800,000 Syrian refugees in Lebanon – almost one quarter of the population. With little international support, this has been a challenge for Lebanon. Dr. Walid Phares, an author of books who is an advisor to the US Congress on the Middle East, said he situation in Lebanon is “close to a disaster… . Lebanon’s public resources are inexistent.”

The result of this humanitarian crisis is clearly seen on the streets. According to Ramirez, “everywhere you turn, there is ugly poverty. There are kids with nothing begging on the streets…. I feel guilty. We live well and you see these kids with nothing.”

But Ramirez has no plans to leave. “Latinas have no problem adapting. They have no problem with the security. All my American friends have left. All the Latinas have stayed.” she added.

One of these friends is Carla Barrage, who is originally from Peru.  Barrage has been living in Beirut with her husband, a Lebanese Muslim, and two daughters since 2008. Being in touch with Lebanese culture was always important to them. She raised her daughters Catholic but they were also taught the Koran.

“When they pray they either pray my prayers, or the Muslim ones. It’s the same for them,” Barrage explained.

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