By Steve English
Way back when we all laughed at the possibility of Donald Trump as President a friend of ours told Ryan and I about 4 Sisters Sweets & Catering, 10317 Central Ave, Oak Lawn. We love ethnic food. We still long for our Albany Park home where streets were lined with multicultural cuisines. I learned 4 Sisters was owned by a Muslim woman and her four daughters. I began to worry as I saw the permission to hate grow in America with the recent election. I remembered how cruel America was in the fifties when my hearing impaired mother struggled to help and settle “Displaced Persons”, Latvian immigrants from Eastern Europe. Reaching a hand to a stranger was my foundation and heritage growing up.
I knew we “had” to buy food from the 4 Sisters but actually is was my means to check how these strangers were doing. We were welcomed by four beautiful young sisters and mother wrapped but by more than their hijabs. We were welcomed with the warmth of your grandmother’s kitchen. You know the one who could cook and kept handing you food. Before we bought anything we were stuffed with delicacies and laughter. We had sorta found a new home. They were different in some Americans eyes and attitudes. They were Ryan and me.
We left with mounds of food carefully created for the oh so irritating gluten free vegan and his occasionally carnivore husband. Before I left and I silently asked one sister, “Are you all okay ?” She nodded with a smile and “Yes.” I whispered they were loved no matter what some of the world was saying. A hug sealed our negotiations. One lunch meal lasted two and a half meals with a bonus of late night coconut cake snacks. We returned often over the following weeks and referred the 4 Sisters to our customers and friends who craved dining options beyond deep dish or thin crust.
My stomach turned when I heard my fears had come true. I learned a stranger had quickly walked into their business, bought a bottle of water and threw a dollar down. A dollar stamped with an anti-Muslim message for them to go home. “Go home” to the four sisters born in the United States, full-time students at St Xavier University while they maintained a business seven days a week. My eyes leaked, but not for long. My rage exploded. These Muslim sisters were my sisters. I needed to act.
I decided they should be rained with love and wash any hate down the gutter where it belonged. Without any permission or discussion I went to Mama and the four sisters to ask to begin a Cash Mob. They had no idea what the hell I was talking about but after my explanation they agreed. I hit social media on every resource and group I could find. Love grew and for three days their store was flooded with new faces as far away as Naperville. Balloons, notes, flowers, smiles, tips and hugs accompanied food orders and new friends. The Cash Mob, an act of compassion filled news sources and was featured on NBC News Chicago with Lauren Jiggetts. We came together and reminded each other what America was founded upon. We all felt good.
I believe when you see hate or inequality you act immediately. We as individuals can change so much once we decide to act. I remember growing up in my small town Lutheran there was really only one simple message “ God is Love.” Your God can be as varied as you. I’d just add passion. Yeah it’s all about Compassion. A little bird told me.