“As-salaam ‘alaykum,” Yassin Terou, owner of Yassin’s Falafel, greeted the audience. He explained that the phrase means “peace be upon you.”
Tuesday, March 28, Terou shared his famous baba ghanoush and pita along with his story of being a refugee at the UT International House for Culture Week promoting messages of peace and community.
“Peace is for everybody. It’s not just for us [Muslims and Arabs],” Terou said.
The night started with his famous cuisines and a short documentary about his hardships as a refugee in the United States.
After the video, Terou explained immigrant life in-depth. Being an immigrant made finding a job hard, but being a non-English speaking immigrant made it more difficult for Terou. That is why he hires immigrants at his restaurant. He empathizes with the struggle of being an unemployed immigrant.
Terou did not only try to shed light on being an immigrant in America, but also shared his love of being part of a community. When coming to Knoxville for refuge, he felt love from Knoxville community members. He was confused by their smiling and how friendly they were toward him.
“What they doing?” he would ask, confused why they smiled at him.
Owning a restaurant was not focused on earning money, but building connections with his customers.
“We want to part of this community and help build it,” Terou said. “It doesn’t feel like a restaurant to my customers. It feels like their home.”
When President Donald Trump was elected president, Yassin’s Falafel filled with people.
“It became a place of respite,” said Nadeem Siddiqu, Terou’s friend and business partner. He is also the University of Tennessee’s Muslim chaplain. “It is a place to come and be with people and help them deal with what happens.”
UT students came to support Terou and became inspired by his message.
“People like Yassin embody the American dream,” UT student Sara Porch said. “There is so much bad and conflict and inner fighting happening in America right now. And to see a community come around to something as cool as falafel is heartwarming and makes me optimistic for the future.”
UT graduate student Cory Smith agreed with Porch’s statement.
“The fact that he is interested in the community and became a pillar of Knoxville is pretty important and certainly keeps my faith in America alive,” Smith said. “I see immigrants, and especially refugees, who are facing fear coming here and of themselves and they still believe a promise in America is inspiring.”
Edited by Lexie Little
Featured Image by Sage Davis