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America's Funniest
(& Smartest) Arab

Cosby, MacGyver, & the News
Amer Zahr
by Amer Zahr
January 21st, 2012 (12 Comments)
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I've always been prone to lose things.  It's probably because I enjoyed a fairly privileged upbringing.  I grew up middle-class and fortunately never really wanted for anything.  My siblings and I didn't grow up spoiled, but we had all that we needed and more.  Sure, it took a long time to get my dad to buy us a Nintendo, but I think that's because he believed that a TV alone was luxury enough.

My dad grew up on UN rations, living hand to mouth.  As a Palestinian refugee, he had nothing in the way of luxury.  Now, after long struggles, he has settled into a middle-class American lifestyle, and he always has taken very close care of his possessions.  It's not too surprising.  He grew up with nothing, so he always knows where all his stuff is.  He keeps everthings organized and doesn't take his precious effects for granted, as his children sometimes do.  In fact, he couldn't understand how I could lose anything when I was a kid.  I remember what he used to say:

Me: "Baba, I lost my toy truck."
Him: "Well, where was the last place you left it?"
Me: "In my room."
Him: "So it used to be there right?"
Me: "Yeah."
Him: "And now it's just gone?"
Me: "Ummm... Yeah."
Him: "Well, I guess we should call the news then."
Me: "Huh?"
Him: "Yes, we should call the news... I think they would be very interested to know that a toy truck can just get up and walk away."

I think I might have gotten my sarcasm from him.

My dad definitely encouraged us to appreciate what we had.  And he taught us to take responsibility for both our actions and our possessions.  But this routine of his sometimes made it hard to talk to him.  It was difficult to share some of my struggles with him:

Me: "Baba, my girlfriend just dumped me."
Him: "But she used to be there right?"
Me: "Yeah."
Him: "And now she's just gone?"
Me: "Yeah."
Him: "Well, I guess we should call the news then."

We Palestinians watch the news so much that we think we actually know the anchors.  I think I was the only kid in the fourth grade who actually knew who Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather were.  Other kids might have called Superman if they needed help.  I was supposed to call Peter Jennings.

But we didn't only watch the news.  My dad let us watch a couple other shows too.  On Thursday nights, we all got together and watched "The Cosby Show."  My dad loved that show.  We Palestinians identify closely with blacks and their struggle.  Like they once did, we are now fighting for recognition in the face of a structure built to defeat us and silence our narrative.  I actually almost checked "African-American" on the census form last year.  We Arabs are, indeed, very similar to black people.  We get profiled.  We get blamed for stuff we don't do.  And white people cross the street when they see us coming.  Also, like black people, we have Sunday dinners and large families.  Our families are so large that an Arab is sometimes older than his uncle.  You know you're an Arab if you've ever taken your uncle to Chuck E Cheese.  Finally, our cuisines share a lot in common.  Go to an Arab barbeque and you'll see it... There are watermelons everywhere!

The other show my dad always watched with us was "MacGyver."  MacGyver could make anything out of anything.  My dad used to say he was our cousin, though I've never seen him at any family functions.  My dad was just as resourceful as MacGyver was.  I'm sure that came from his tough upbringing.  My father can make a pair of shoes with four rubber bands and two pieces of cardboard.  Now that I think back about it, there was one thing MacGyver made in almost every episode: a bomb.  He was blowing stuff up all the time.  Maybe he was my cousin.

I have kept the lessons I learned from watching TV with my dad.  He, like most Palestinian parents, instilled in me and my siblings a deep appreciation of our past and an acute desire to announce and defend the justice inherent in our struggle.  We were taught to be proud of of who we were, just like the Cosbys.  And now as an adult, I have my own house, and I'm renovating the whole thing.  I'm being inventive and enterprising as I move along, and I'm doing my best to creatively solve the problems I encounter, just like MacGyver.

My father's lessons have proved useful to me, like during the last time I arrived at Tel Aviv's airport:

Israeli soldier: "How long will you be staying in Israel?"
Me: "You know what?  I'm not going to Israel... I'm going to Palestine!"
Soldier: "There is no Palestine."
Me: "Yes there is!"
Soldier (pointing to a map on the wall): "Look, there is no Palestine on the map!"
Me: "... But it used to be there right?"
Soldier: "Yeah."
Me: "And now it's just gone?"
Soldier: "Yeah."
Me: "Well, I guess we should call the news then."

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* Amer Zahr is a Palestinian American comedian, writer, professor and speaker living in Dearborn, Michigan. He is also the editor of "The Civil Arab."

Comments (12)
  1. Amer, I remember you from Ann Arbor and have been reading your stuff for a while. Good stuff! Thanks!

  2. I think I’m more like MacGruber.

  3. Good one. My family used to gather to watch the Cosby Show too, and Family Matters. We also used to watch Three’s Company as a family, but I don’t think it’s because my parents felt any affinity with Jack Tripper!

  4. Really, really enjoyed this one. I told baba to read it, he is reading it now . So I said, to him
    “Are you reading it” he said ” English is my second language, I am reading it slowly”

  5. Hey Amer, this is really beautiful, thank you for sharing this story! I read everything you write and love it. Thanks again. :)

  6. As always, well done Amer… Enjoyed it.

  7. lol “You know you’re an Arab if you’ve ever taken your uncle to Chuck E Cheese” so true… good one Amer :)

  8. Samer Elbandak ... January 23rd, 2012 - 01:00

    Great job as always Amer, I enjoy your writings as always.

  9. We used to gather around the tv and watch ALF and Perfect Strangers. Balki showed us it was ok to be ethnic in America…lol.

  10. Great story!

  11. Great story!!


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