One of my best friends, a guy I have known for over twenty years, grew up in Iraq. He and his family (he married an American) used to live here near Dallas until just after the first Gulf War started. He had the misfortune of having the last name, Hussain.
Try living around here, a place that is known for developing and manufacturing military equipment with a name like that during a war with a leader of the same name. My friend worked in the field of encryption. He briefly considered changing his name to avoid all the hassles, then decided to just move from here to another city out west.
If you’d have told me fifteen years ago that people would become immune to that name, that one of the coolest guys on the planet would also carry that name and that burden, I’d never have believed it. It is probably one of the most amazing cultural turnarounds I’ve ever witnessed.
This is a friend we’ve kept up with despite the fact that we haven’t lived in the same state in over 15 years. He and his wife are like family to us.
His mother and siblings still live in Baghdad and I can’t imagine the years and years of mindfuck that must be for him, the bombings every day, and other hardships. He’s tried several times to get them out of the country, to move them to safer places in the Middle East. He’s spent a lot of money, made some long and dangerous journeys, but each time his plans fell through in the end.
Last summer his father had to have surgery. He’d been shot in the hand at some market but ended up with some other complication with his abdomen. He couldn’t just go to a hospital. The way it worked, he had to pay for a room at a hotel and pay a surgical team to come out there and do the operation in the hotel room. He did okay from the surgery, but died of a heart attack the next day.
Despite all this, my friend has managed to maintain his sense of humor. We visited with him just after 9/11, and he was feeling the heat of being an arab. He’d say, “I’m going to try to start passing myself off as hispanic.”
I just talked to him today and he mentioned how he was excited about Tuesday. I’d been calling it “The 20th,” so didn’t catch on right away, “What you got going on Tuesday?”
Oh Tuesday! Hell yeah!
I asked him how it felt to share a name with the President-Elect.
He said, “There is a God,” and laughed.
So for all of you out there who tacked the name Hussein to your screen name during the election to make people stop being afraid of that name, I thank you. My friend’s unearned burdens are less heavy today.