Alexis Grimm, an international studies major with a MENA concentration, wanted to understand identity formation and how Arab-Americans in Columbus form and maintain their cultural identities. Her questions attempted to penetrate a complicated subject. ‘What comes first in your identification and why? Do you say you are an Arab, a Muslim, or an Arab-American?’
“Dr. Al-Masri prepared us well in how to respectfully interact with the families and their homes,” Grimm says. “I felt nervous but honored to be granted the privilege of being welcomed into the families’ homes and learning about their lives.”
Once the interviews were conducted, the digitizers broke them into parts, prepping each one for the transcribers, who listened to the interviews and transcribed them in Arabic. After the transcribers were done, the project moved to the translators. If the interview was done in Arabic, they would translate it back to English, back and forth, over and over again.
“Imagine how many times they have to listen and repeat, and then put it into actual writing,” Al-Masri says. “It’s intense practice in Arabic linguistic skills.”
For Grimm, experiencing another culture firsthand and gaining an understanding of its people made the language challenges almost fade away.
“What has surprised me most throughout the project so far have been the men, women, and families we interviewed,” she says.
“Each of the families the team and I have spoken with possess such admirable traits: their ability to persevere and overcome, to be successful despite all obstacles, and to maintain their pride and love for their respective home countries and the United States. The eloquence in the way they speak about these things is not only what surprised me the most, it’s also one of my favorite parts.”
When it’s finished, the digital collection project will take stories of real people and turn them into an open resource, accessible online not only by Denison students but other schools and the Arab community as well. Al-Masri plans to keep adding more stories to the digital repository by reaching out to Arab-American communities in Cleveland, Dayton, and possibly Dearborn, Michigan.
“I wanted, so passionately, to do something along these lines. It makes sense for me,” says Al-Masri. “As an Arab-American professor who teaches Arabic at Denison, I want to provide this unique opportunity for my students to test their linguistic and cultural skills outside of a formal classroom context. I also want to give back to the Arab American Community allowing their values, their dreams and their stories to be heard.”