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First Person: Syrian Sisters Dedicated To Music

Christine Chehadeh (left) and Carla Chehadeh (right) perform for the San Diego Youth Symphony in an undated photo.
Courtesy Marwan Chehadeh
Christine Chehadeh (left) and Carla Chehadeh (right) perform for the San Diego Youth Symphony in an undated photo.

First Person: Syrian Sisters Dedicated To Music
First Person: Syrian Sisters Dedicated To Music GUESTS: Carla Chehadeh, San Diego Youth Symphony Christine Chehadeh, San Diego Youth Symphony

As we discussed earlier Donald Trump on Friday suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days and for families fleeing violence in Syria the suspension is indefinite. There are hundreds of refugees in San Diego County including the Jihadi family that left Syria in 2012 for Jordan and settled in San Diego two years later. The sisters Carla Chehadeh and Christine Chehadeh studied music in Damascus but had to leave their instruments behind. They explain what music means to them. I don't remember a lot but I remember when my time there was a huge pond and my mom was like go to the hallways because there wasn't any glass there. There was a day when the school's basketball coach was tracked down and shot in front of the school. My friends were crying about it and after I went to my youth group some students from other schools heard about it and they started asking me about it. So I was dashing felt weird and I was scared but I don't completely remember. We live like 40 minutes away from the school. My parents stopped sending us because they were really scared that we might not come back someday or something would happen to the school bus and they wouldn't be able to help us out. I played the cello. I am Christine Chehadeh and I played the violin. I think I started when I was five. When I was in Syria I did not appreciate learning music as much because it was stressful. There was homework for it and I would go to my days a week for my lessons and another day for music theater. My parents not play instruments but they always regretted that because when they were little not a lot of people played instruments. So they just regretted that and they wanted us to experience it. I was happy to leave to Jordan because I knew it would be safer but at that time my dad was like we are just leaving to Jordan for a couple of weeks and coming back. We did not know that we were going to stay there so we said we will be back in a week or so. It was like a vacation for us because it was the summer also. So we went to Jordan with our cousins were the same age. They are our best friend so we were with them so we were happy because we were living in the same house and before you knew it was a year and a half. We did not know if we would stay long enough in order to learn music. I didn't find anything that I loved there. We started playing music and going to the Institute probably two months when we came to San Diego. It was not my choice to start again because I came in the second semester of fourth grade. So we had to learn an instrument and I just chose the violin because I played for two months in Syria. I like it and I wanted to start learning it again. But then she told me you are doing everything wrong so I had to literally learn how to stand up and do the positions. I think nonstop even when I'm watching TV about what I should do what I have to do for school and college. When I play, it gives me something else to think about in that moment I think I should get better at this piece. In Damascus I didn't really care about it as much as now after I stopped for a while and saw my life without it. No one judges you because they know that everyone makes mistakes. We do not play together but sometimes when I go over all say look at what I learned and then she'll start playing the song. That makes me happy. She is always putting me when I show how much I accomplished and I am proud of her also. They will perform as part of the San Diego youth Symphony's winter concert on February 12. That first person feature was produced by Michael Lipkin. Be sure to watch the evening addition at 5:00 and 6:30 tonight. 20s again tomorrow for KPBS Midday Edition . If you ever miss a show, check out the broadcast at I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Thank you for listening.

KPBS Midday Edition's First Person series tells the stories of average and not-so-average San Diegans in their own words. Their experiences, both universal and deeply personal, offer a unique lens into the news of the day.

President Donald Trump on Friday suspended the U.S. refugee program for 120 days, but for families fleeing violence in Syria, the suspension is indefinite.


There are hundreds of Syrian refugees in San Diego County, including the Chehadeh family. They left Syria in 2012 for Jordan and eventually settled in San Diego in 2014.

Carla Chehadeh, 17, remembers a teacher at her school who was shot and killed in an attack and Christine Chehadeh, 12, recalls huddling in a hallway during a large bomb blast. While they lived in Damascus, the sisters took cello and violin lessons, in part because their parents always regretted never learning themselves.

The family had to leave the sisters' instruments behind when they fled. And in Jordan, never certain of how long they would be staying, Carla and Christine say it didn't make sense to seek out new ones. But once they arrived in the U.S., they quickly took up music again and are now part of the San Diego Youth Symphony.

As part of our First Person series, Carla and Christine explain why continuing to study music means so much to them.

Corrected: October 5, 2021 at 11:10 AM PDT
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