Assyrian Stories

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“Ever since I was a kid, my friends at school would call me by my nickname, Domi. I always felt embarrassed that my name was difficult and different and non-Assyrians could never seem to get it right. Eight-year-old me did not want to inconvenience anyone, so I always was okay with my nickname. I was in American Girl Scouts and one year my mom chaperoned one of the trips; she overheard a friend call me Domi, and she quipped, ‘her name is Domarina, do not call her Domi.’ I was mortified. I tried so hard to fit in with the American kids and I felt betrayed by my mom. I later apologized to my friend and confirmed she could indeed call me Domi. School years went by, different jobs came and went, and Domi always seemed to stick. Until one day in college, I worked at a retail store and I was ringing out a customer, an older gentleman. He kindly asked me what my name was and what it meant. I told him, ‘Domarina, but everyone calls me Domi.’ He proceeded to look me in the eyes and say, ‘I bet you are a very strong woman. You had to stand up in class and explain your name to a new teacher every year as a kid and throughout life. You were forced to stand up for yourself. That’s the kind of resiliency that can’t be taught.’ I almost started to cry, I never stuck up for myself when it came to my name. I finally realized why my mom was adamant that people call me by my full name. It represents who I am, my family, and is a connection to my Assyrian heritage and identity. Ever since then, I have made it a point to go by Domarina. I will never forget this stranger’s words and the impact they have had on me.”

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“I was at Whole Foods in 2011 taking an Italian cooking class and I realized that same day, why don’t I host these cooking classes and bring in Assyrian chefs and instructors to feature our cuisine. My background is in marketing and communications. It wasn’t in food, but I love food, I’ve grown up helping my mom and grandma in the kitchen. But I felt like I needed to do my part and have something that shares our narratives. And the easiest way to do that is through food. For me, Assyrian Kitchen is beyond food. Assyrian Kitchen is a celebration of our identity and the roots that we have to our land. And it’s a conversation, it’s more than just a meal. And it’s the people that you bring in to engage that really make that meal more meaningful.”

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“This store was originally opened in 1982. It went to a few people, then I took over and I converted it to a half-restaurant-half-grocery store. Now, the groceries are not [selling]. Even though my prices are way cheaper than [other stores’], they’re not selling. People like [my food]. It’s delicious and it’s selling better than groceries. So I said, ‘Why would I bother with the groceries?’ When I finish [selling] the groceries, I’ll put a couple of chairs here, a couple of chairs there. We still have Assyrian souvenirs. I will just honor them and keep them. [Selling souvenirs] was my job when I first started in 1986.”

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“I got into powerlifting after I was diagnosed with PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). I wanted to lose weight and feel better about myself, especially growing up in California where everybody’s surfing and doing fitness stuff, so I hired a coach. He gave me some weights and after I lifted them with ease, he mentioned that I should consider powerlifting. I went home that same day, googled what it was and signed up for my first competition three months out. My dad loved the idea. My mom was a a little hesitant but now she’s my biggest cheerleader. At my events, she’s screaming and yelling in excitement. I think more Assyrian women should get into powerlifting. A lot of women are turned off by the idea because they think it’s going to make you look manly, but it actually makes you feel good about yourself and gives you a lot of body confidence.”

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“I’m a long-term substitute teacher, which means that I fill in for a teacher who’s sick or quits or can’t come back. I’ve been there since February. We had a two-hour [farewell] drive-through. The parents would just…wave and say bye, and the ones who had gifts were just handing them out from their car to their teachers. I made a sign, and my car was all decked out with bows and little painting things and stuff like that. It’s kind of fun for the kids, mostly, and for the teachers, too. They wanted to come back to school, all the kids. You’d think they would like being home but, really, they wanted to come back. They have fun with each other. Some of them don’t have any friends outside of school. I like when kids learn. I like watching them learn things and seeing them grow. It makes me feel happy when I see them learning.”

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“When I first became a mother, I found it really hard to be an Assyrian mom in Fairfax, Virginia because there weren’t too many other Assyrian moms I could connect with. So I really felt this pressure to connect my children to the Assyrian culture through books. When my kids were young, I would go to the library all of the time. One day I just saw all of these bilingual children’s books, Korean and Indian books and all of these cultures represented in bilingual books and I thought I really have to publish a children’s boook in Assyrian and English. That was my inspiration and I thought, ‘This is what I need to do while I’m a stay-at-home mom.’ Since then, I’ve received so much positive feedback from my books, people really appreciate that they are easy to read, easy to follow along with really colorful, bright pictures. It’s inspired an interest in connecting kids to the Assyrian alphabet at a young age. I’ve even had buyers from Louisiana and Idaho and Pennsylvania where there are small Assyrian communities.”

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“I first went on Gishru in 2018 and again in 2019. On a tour of the Sapna Valley, we stopped in the village of Blejaneh (also known as Bet G’naneh) at the final resting place of Yousip Toma Hermiz. Yousip was executed by the Ba’ath regime in 1985 fighting for the rights of Assyrians. We were welcomed by his son Ninab, who offered touching remarks. He said that he doesn’t consider himself to be set apart as the son of a martyr. Instead, the Assyrian nation can consider themselves the son of a martyr. Also with Ninab that day was Ramsin Aprim Benjamen from Canada. Ramsin, who was good friends with Yousip in Kirkuk, offered testimony on the mentality of Yousip. I was moved to hear Ramsin talk about the sequence of events that led to the arrest and execution of Yousip, Youbert, and Youkhanna. Being there to hear not only from the son of Yousip, but from someone to give a firsthand account was a capstone to that trip. At that point, I realized that it takes a special individual to die for something you believe in. The Assyrian nationalist path requires dedication, hope, and perseverance.”

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“I came to DC in 2008 to work as a lobbyist for an Assyrian organization. Most of the people who are working on Christian issues in the Middle East are not from that part of the world. And if non-Assyrians are driving the policy that affects Assyrians, we’re in trouble. Nobody else has skin in the game. Non-Assyrians can walk away at any time and it doesn’t affect the outcome of their existence. For us, it does. We can’t walk away. Our existence is on the line. If we’re not fighting for it, no one is going to. And no one is going to fight for us in a way that we can fight for ourselves.”

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“I work in the pediatric unit….we do get a lot of immunocompromised kids. It’s kind of scary to balance out your work between immunocompromised kids and kids who might have the coronavirus. We get one N95 mask until it soils or rips and we get a surgical mask every time we go to work for the whole day. I’ve felt really on edge.”


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