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How An Evening of Arab Culture Can Uplift Communities

posted on: Apr 12, 2017

Attendees reading poetry at “An Evening of Arab Culture” in Little Falls, New York.

BY: Christine Shahin/Ambassador Blogger

I usually write on Arab Beauty Naturally lore and practices since I am a “natural cosmetologist”, but my offerings, written and otherwise, are branching out now.

Dr. Amal David of Arab America was seeking ways we could celebrate National Arab American Heritage Month this April, so she reached out to others and myself and encouraged us to get active.

April has always been an incredibly busy time of year with holy days, earth day, and birthdays. I thought there was no way I could fit another thing on my plate when it occurred to me that I already hold gatherings in my salon/spa (which has a distinctive Arabic flair), such as bridal parties, baby showers, birthday parties etc. on a regular basis.

I decided I would host a celebration of Arab American Heritage Month with an event called An Evening of Arab Culture on April 6. Mind you, I live in a very rural upstate New York area where diversity is limited. When my six children attended school, they and two other students were the only ethnic students. A social studies teacher once stated in class that he had been to the Middle East and “Arabs” were the stupidest people on the planet, unbeknownst that my scholar athlete son was part Arab. Needless to say, there was a conversation with the school administration. Times of war were always challenging for my kids at school, but I felt encouraged to celebrate our incredible heritage regardless of these memories.

An Evening of Arab Culture offered food, music, art and poetry to my community. We had a nice showing of about 30 people, mostly of European descent, who were very much supportive and interested to learn. I made Buklawa, and tried my hand at making a vegan option using coconut oil. It turned out delicious! There was a young man whose great grandfather was Lebanese, a young woman whose father had a DNA test that showed he has 50% Lebanese DNA. A small, family-owned local cheese company made and brought Syrian string cheese. And a local Presbyterian pastor who did some peace work in the Arab world came and shared her experience. I also drummed a bit on the derbecki, but I am so out of practice. I’ll need to get ready for next year!

Christine Shahin drumming on the derbecki during “An Evening of Arab Culture”.

Some brought poems by Arab or Islamic authors to share. I read On Giving by Kahlil Gibran because there is currently such a stigma around giving. While it is important to recognize there are narcissistic people who take advantage of others, as well as situations in which we can find ourselves as enablers, there are also those with genuine needs. As Gibran so eloquently asks in his poem, “Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?”

​Since I grew up in an Arab American household, hospitality comes naturally to me for an event like this. Today, there is much misinformation about Arab culture, religions, and ethnicities; there are places where these systems of definition overlap and places where they are separate. By being hospitable with our neighbors, we are able to communicate our culture more clearly.

Those who attended confirmed their enjoyment for the event, as well as their desire for more gathering of this type. While the current national and international political climate is challenging, the silver lining is a growing grassroots movement of alliances with Arab Americans in their hometowns.