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Valley residents with Middle Eastern heritage didn't fear backlash

| Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2002

A huge American flag adorns a wall outside of Eazer's Restaurant and Deli in New Kensington.

Following Sept. 11, it was practically mandatory for businesses to promote solidarity and unity through banners and signs, but the symbol hanging outside of the small, homestyle diner is especially meaningful.

Owners Georgette Corbin and her husband are Lebanese.

"We are still American," Corbin said. "We are proud of our heritage but this is our home."

Although there are distinct differences between Lebanese and other Middle Eastern ethnicities who weren't affiliated with terrorist activities, in a post-traumatized America, it was hard to predict if a backlash might come against all who resemble the perpetrators in any way.

"We kept hearing that Middle Eastern people in America would be hurt," Corbin said. "Someone told my son to shave his beard because he looked like the terrorists. But nobody ever did anything to us. We were never afraid."

Similar sentiments were echoed by Jay Bandara, owner of the Exxon Gas Station in Tarentum, who is of Indian descent.

In a Sept. 11 interview, immediately following the attacks, he said that he did not foresee any problems.

Since that day the soft luminescent glow of the store sign outside has read "God Bless America" and not a corner of the property isn't occupied by a small American flag.

Arvind Reddy, Bandara's cousin who is a clerk at the store, assures that Bandara's foresight has been accurate and that the store has not had any problems concerning the workers' ethnicity following the attacks.

"We have been here long enough that most of our customers realize we are Indian," he said. "Nobody has been prejudiced toward us."

Reddy is qualified to speak about the effects of the struggling economy. He relocated to the Valley after he was one of 50,000 employees laid off last year by Ford Motor Company. He has a master's and MBA in computer science.

Educated in New York City and present in O'Hare Airport in Chicago at the moment of the attacks, he maintains a very optimistic view of the country he has always been fascinated with.

"I still believe America is the greatest country in the world," he said, panting between frantic customers demanding cigarettes and returning "funny-tasting Slushees."

"It's very sad, but America is now seeing what India has been experiencing for 20 years now," he said.

Corbin agreed that the expansion of terror is an all too familiar scenario.

"These are the people that have ruined much of the world where I am from," Corbin said. "They have no value for human life anymore, and it is very sad to see so many innocent people hurt by what they do."

Reddy and Corbin emphasized that most of the residents of the Valley have been very considerate and open-minded toward them in the past year, and they feel confident that the future will hold promise.

When asked if they feel that life will go on as usual after today's one-year anniversary, both answered without a trace of hesitation that it will.

"We know in our hearts everything will be OK," Corbin said. "We hope that it is true for everyone."

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