Many celebrated the July 4 holiday in Rutland County over the weekend, from parade marchers in Poultney on Monday to crowds at the Summer Smash Demolition Derby at Vermont Fairgrounds on Sunday, but last weekend Independence American was celebrated by two of Rutland City’s newest. American citizens.
Hussam Alhallak and Hazar Mansour hosted their 4th of July party at their home on Crescent Street in Rutland the last weekend in June.
Carol Tashie, a Rutland Welcomes volunteer, said the most striking thing about entering the backyard for the party was how everything was decorated in red, white and blue. She said it was the epitome of a patriotic 4th of July holiday in Anywhere, USA.
Alhallak spoke proudly of the party. He said he and Mansour had invited many friends.
“If you come see my house now, front, porch, big flag, American. My country now,” he said.
Alhallak added that the party decorations were still in place a week later and he said he wanted to keep them and the many American flags on display.
But like many American citizens, the family’s story didn’t begin on American soil.
Alhallak said he met Mansour when they were both living in Syria through his sister who was a friend of his. After getting to know her, he learned that his father was a teacher he had studied under. This relationship made the process a bit easier when Alhallak realized he wanted to marry Mansour.
“In my country, you have to ask before getting engaged. I have to ask his parents. My parents are going to see his parents to ask them if they agree to me getting engaged to Hazar. It’s a different culture, you know what I mean,” he said.
The violent conflict in Syria led the family to decide that they had to move.
“We are staying in Syria and waiting for the end of the war, but the situation is getting worse. After the death of my father in the war, after that, we are very afraid for the children, for my husband, for me, because my father, he was in his car, he was going to his work, you know, and he just got shot and he died,” Mansour said.
They were able to leave the country immediately and move to Turkey where they lived for about two years until they had the opportunity to come to America. Mansour said the family came to the United States as refugees with the help of the United Nations.
“We don’t know anything about Vermont or any place, just the famous places. But we didn’t know anything about Vermont. We couldn’t find Vermont on the map,” Mansour said with a laugh.
She said they first stayed with a family in the Rutland area and then found an apartment. She and Alhallak then took classes at the Community College of Vermont to get certified as an accountant in the United States.
Alhallak had been an accountant in Syria but Mansour had been a French teacher.
They also studied American history in order to take their citizenship exam in February. Alhallak said he got all the answers correct and then qualified to become a US citizen in a ceremony in March.
“America is my country now. It makes a big difference to me. It makes me happy, you know,” Alhallak said.
Tashie said she was reminded that years ago, before the pandemic, she had a conversation with Mansour who told her, “There is magic here in Rutland.
“It’s something I believe. I believe Rutland is a very magical place. But to hear it come out of her mouth, to know that after all the hardships of getting here and settling down, she and this family see Rutland as a magical place. I think it’s something we can all appreciate,” she said.
The whole family has adapted to life in the United States. The youngest member of the family, Danyal, 4, was born in the United States, and their two other children Layan, 15, and Mohammad, 12, are now pupils in schools in Rutland. Alhallak said Layan loves to read and enjoys the high school library.
Mohammad developed his skills as an athlete.
“Mohammad is doing very well for basketball. When I was playing with him, oh my God, he was doing very well in basketball,” he said.
While there was controversy in Rutland over Syrian refugees around 2016, Alhallak said he had no negative experiences with the townspeople and said people had been very kind to him and his family, including volunteers who came to Crescent Street as part of Rutland County Habitat for Humanity, which opened in September 2020.
In an email interview, Dick Malley, chairman of the local resources and development committee at Habitat’s Rutland branch, said he was “inspired by what they have accomplished and are doing to make the most of opportunities that are available to all of us”. .”
“They left everything they had worked so hard for when they left Syria. But they brought with them the positive “can do” attitude and, step by step, they settled in Rutland. That they did so well is a credit to them and to the many wonderful people in Rutland who welcomed them into their community. Yes, it’s a story about the American dream where hard work and a positive attitude can open the door to a world of opportunity. but it is also a testament to the generosity and strength of the Rutland community,” he said.
The house is a two-story, three-bedroom house, designed with help from Efficiency Vermont to be energy efficient, with a porch and backyard.
Tashie said her experience with the family began almost the first day they arrived in the United States. She said from day one that she found Alhallak and Mansour to be “two of the most positive and well-meaning people I have ever met”.
Tashie said the pair have built “incredible and enviable lives” for themselves. She said that when she thinks of Hazar and Hussam and their three children, she “sees the American dream staring me in the face.”
“Nothing makes me happier than knowing that this community has welcomed people, welcomed these people and others, and given them the opportunity to feel like they belong, like they have friends, good jobs, their own home and now, ultimately, citizenship in the United States of America,” she said.
Tashie added that Alhallak and Mansour are now giving back and helping Rutland Welcomes as the voluntary organization works with Afghan refugees.
“They were right there. They were there to help and offer whatever they could. So they got help and they’re giving help, which again is the ultimate American dream,” she said.