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Toledo, I sit back and reflect on you.

Love Letters to Toledo is partnering for the month of June with Welcome Toledo-Lucas County in celebration of Immigrant Heritage Month 2016. Immigrant Heritage Month is a national month-long celebration of the individuals, families, and communities who have built our country’s economy and created the unique social fabric of our nation. Welcome Toledo-Lucas County, a collaboration of community partners housed in the Board of Lucas County Commissioners in partnership with Toledo LISC, are asking community members to join them in celebrating Toledo’s vibrant immigrant heritage by telling immigrant heritage stories using the social media hashtags #IHMToledo and #Welcome TLC.

 

Dear Toledo,

Twenty eight years later, I sit back and reflect on you. I reflect on the good, the bad, and, above all else, the opportunity. My mom came to the United States when she was seventeen years old from Karoun, Lebanon. She came seeking the opportunity to finish school and go to college, not speaking a word of English, she came and conquered. Later she met my father, also from Lebanon, born in Toledo. They married and settled in my father’s hometown, and that is where my story began.

Truth be told, it was not always a loving relationship between the two of us growing up. Though looking back, I realize that may be due to perception. Now, as a young woman and mother of a five year old boy, I see that you did not take care of me by default, it was by choice.

At the ripe age of eight, I was diagnosed with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, also known as JRA. Yes, it was my family doctor and all those at Toledo Children’s Hospital that took care of me, but it was also the community. The love and will of you and your people. The openness and welcoming of diversity and differences.

My two older sisters, my younger brother, and I grew up with both grandmothers living with us. They brought warmth, joy, love, and comfort to us and all those around them. My memories of childhood are not only of being ill, but of our neighbors stopping by to check on our grandmother if they hadn’t seen her on her morning walk that day to assure she was well. (The memories of the elderly woman across the street and her gifts to all four of us children on every special occasion.) Memories of my mother sharing our traditional sweets on our holidays with everyone around us. Memories of friends coming over after school, just to get a taste of what we were having for dinner that evening. And memories of people asking if my other grandmother still worked at Oasis and could cook for them (yes, it was her beautiful hands making all that food!).

Looking back, I remember joy, not fear. I remember happiness not sadness. I remember inclusion not seclusion. And ever since I was a little girl who became ill, I have always wanted to give back. Daily, I pray for many things. For Toledo to never lose its sense of acceptance so I can raise my son here the way my parents raised us. For Toledo to always foster love so my son can grow up to have neighbors like we had. And for Toledo to always allow me the opportunity to give back.

Without you, Toledo, and open hearts, minds, and eyes of your community; without your love and acceptance of diversity, my family wouldn’t have a story to tell. Now with a different perception, I can say to you, I love you and I thank you. I pray in 28 years when it is my sons turn to reflect, he can say the same and more.

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