'We're Part of Both Worlds': Syrian Americans Feel Pride, Conflict for Both Homelands

Syrian Americans talked about how conflicts have affected their lives.

ByABC News
September 2, 2013, 3:09 PM

Sept. 2, 2013— -- Just days before the world waited to see if the United States would take military action against Syria, several Syrian Americans talked with ABC News about how the conflicts in their motherland have affected their lives here.

"When I'm here in the United States, I'm a minority," said Salem Samra, a 33-year-old plastic surgeon. "I'm Arab-American, a Muslim. When I'm in Syria, I'm a minority, I'm an American. We're part of both worlds."

There are about 300,000 Syrian Americans living in the United States, with large communities in Los Angeles, Detroit, New York City and New Jersey.

Sarah Gualtieri is the director of Middle Eastern studies at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. She focuses on the migration of Syrians to the United States, and said she has noticed that social and political tensions in Syria have made their way here.

"People have lost friends because of disagreements," Gualtieri said. "It's a topic of debate at dinner tables."

Yasmin Samra, 31, was born in Syria and later became an American citizen. Today, she is a pharmacist who has two young children with her husband, Salem Samra. She and several other Syrian Americans who now live in New Jersey talked about the chaos in the Middle East.

"This country is my country and [Syria is] my country. … It's part of your identity," Yasmin said. "We need the regime to leave so that we can start rebuilding our country," referring to Syria.

Salem was one of four boys born in the U.S. to Syrian immigrant parents. Just this past May, he and his younger brother Maher, a 30-year-old banker, went on a service mission to help Syrian refugees in Jordan.

Salem said he remembers each of the people he met. "The last patient that I operated on was a young girl. I think she was 8 years old. Beautiful, light eyes. She lost her leg above the knee and she had a shrapnel wound to her hand such that her thumb was scarred into her palm."

He said he was proud to have made a difference in her life. "We operated on her. We got her hand opened."

"I know if I was living in a refugee camp ... I wish someone would help me. And these people need help," Maher Samra said. "I made a point when I was at the refugee camps in Jordan to ask everybody I met, 'What's your name?' Because even though I knew I couldn't remember it, it was important to me that they knew they were important."

Their father, Dr. Said Samra, 64, is also a surgeon. He left Syria 38 years ago, and said he fears for his family and friends back home, living among the constant threat of violence.

"There is more than 100,000 people that have died," he said. "My classmate that I grew up with was taken into custody about nine month ago. He disappeared. … Then his family was called and were told to come pick up his body." He said they were given no explanation as to how he died.

Assad Jebara, another Syrian American living in New Jersey, said he was making frequent trips to Syria for his garment business just two years ago. He even had dealings with Syria's president, Bashar Assad, and met him "on more than one occasion," he said. Jebara said he got the impression that Assad is not calling the shots by himself.

"He's controlled by a circle of uncles," Jebara said. "He's aware. He told them to do whatever is necessary to prevail. There's no difference between Saddam Hussein and Assad family. The name vary but they acted the same brutality and they must prevail at any cost."