Saturday, November 24, 2012

PAYL Conference

Here I am at the 3rd Annual Palestinian American Youth League  (PAYL) conference, in Dallas, Texas.

This is the first time I've ever been invited, and flown to go and speak somewhere. It's my first time in Texas.

The Palestinian-American Council in Chicago invited me. I met with five or six men in suits in a small office building and a few minutes into my presentation, they asked me to come to Dallas to speak to the youth. I was ecstatic. I didn't know there was such a thing as PAYL. I also didn't know what my role would be in this organization, and in this conference. They wanted me to propose a project for the youth to get involved in. Would American kids be interested in Al Aqaba? What an opportunity for kids in the Jordan Valley....

Am I ready? Am I qualified? Will I be effective? I was a little nervous while I was supposed to be relaxing in my hotel room. I was jotting down last-minute notes and cutting and adding slides to the presentation. Do I mention the young man in Gaza who was shot in the face today? I've seen that face dozens of times in the last few hours and I can't get him from my mind...he's my brother's age. Do I mention water scarcity in the Jordan Valley? These hotel showers have amazing pressure.

In the end, things were running behind schedule, and my talk was postponed until first thing tomorrow morning. I don't mind it really, in fact it was really valuable for me to sit in on the last guy's talk about strategic planning. His English wasn't great, he spoke like an uncle and I could tell right off the bat he wasn't holding the attention of the university student crowd. I understood then why my presence and message was considered important, and that made my nerves subside. The man said some really interesting things though, and he got a nice response from the students. He said that he knew most of their parents (most of them being from Chicago), and though they're wonderful people, they're not strategic planners. They didn't have the resources their kids have, so it's their responsibility to think long-term for their communities, and the international Palestinian community as a whole.

"Did you know, there are around 128 Zionist organizations in DC? And there are only a handful of Palestinian organizations, and they go against each other...why is that? Why are we not united?" I would disagree that all the Zionist organizations agree with each other, but considering even J-Street's placid response to the latest Gaza assault ("First and foremost, Israel has the right to defend itself..."), they seem to be united...enough. It was interesting to see this conversation going on, "we can throw the blame around forever, but the real issue is, we're not doing any long-term strategic planning."

I also sat in on one of the rooms where the younger kids were doing a workshop. They looked like they were 10-14 or so, and I'd just caught the end, so one by one, a kid would go up and read what they'd written about their family history. It went, my name is ________, my parents names are ______ and _______ and they were born in Amman, Jordan. The reason they lived in Jordan is because they were kicked out of their home town in Palestine. The name of my grandparents' village in Palestine is __________. The town was mostly destroyed, except for a few buildings. My grandparents left all of their things because they thought they would be able to come back. I'm very proud to be Palestinian. 

And all the kids would hoot and holler, and they are just regular American kids, full of sass and silliness. I wish this community were more visible. Someone should make a movie about Palestinian-American youth. Hmmmm.

So now I'm in my room, my roommate Alison Weir (creator of If Americans Knew) is arriving shortly, and there is a big banquet starting downstairs! I'm going to head down. Hasta manana.....