Recap: National Arab American Heritage Month-- Celebrating Arab American Literature, Poetry, Art and Music
By Ruqyah Sweidan / Arab America Contributing Writer
On Sunday, April 18, 2021, our Arab American Heritage Month event featured talented Arab Americans from the Arts. Our distinguished guests spoke about their experiences and achievements in Visual Arts, Literature and Theater. Our panelists also showed a great empathetic connection with each other and with the guests. This emphasized the strength, diversity and timelessness of Arab creativity and community.
Our distinguished panelists were Dr. Mamoun Sakkal, Nathalie Handal, Heather Raffo, Sana Dajani and Layth Sidiq. The moderator was Dr Ramzi Salti. Below is the full video of the lively discussion, Q & A, and mesmerizing performances!
Dr Salti, with his enthusiastic voice, opened the floor with introductions. He eloquently described the vast careers, accomplishments and personal backgrounds of each panelist. He also expertly led the flow of the conversation, utilizing timing to place the best emphasis on each contributor’s talents. Dr Salti, of course, is experienced in presentation as he is a radio host and professor. He put forth the same enthusiasm and detail that he gives to his regular audience. Throughout the event, Dr Salti also provided his own reflections, leading the flow of the questions asked and making each panelist feel empowered. During closing, Dr Salti continued utilizing his great skill with a final message of connection, community and pride.
Dana Dajani was a radiant presence. She read her poetry that evoked emotions from the whole crowd. The people were united in their awe and admiration. Thought – provoking, universal, and passionate are words that can best describe Dana’s style. The poetry she read flawlessly stirred excitement through the computer screen. It was clear that the notable resilience and courage, which all Palestinians universally possess, was strong within Dana. The people she has interacted with and the spaces she has performed in have been positively rocked with Dana’s emotionally powerful style.
Layth Sidiq graced all those at the event with absolutely captivating violin performances. He was requested to play quite a few times. The audience just couldn’t get enough! The serenity, the melody and the skill of his playing mesmerized us all. It is clear why Layth is such a success with the youth he mentors. Music has been Layth’s focus of self-expression and connection with others. He performs, composes and teaches. He is also very knowledgeable about the Arabi style classical music, which is ever-present in his work. Through him, many Arab Americans in classical music can learn the richness and vastness of this field.
Heather Raffo passionately spoke about the experiences of having multiple identities. Her acting and writing are bold and honest. She is very aware of political, social and cultural discourses happening in the Arab and American societies. And she is also therefore aware of how they overlap. She was not shy about expressing her personal experiences and how her observations have shaped the direction of her work. Family structure, cultural perceptions and different global assumptions – mainly by the West – are seen in her work. This approach has increased people’s interest in the many stories and realities that exist for Arab Americans.
Nathalie’s words rang with truth and advocacy about the space for the Arab narrative in mainstream American literature. Thus, her work is significant for young Arab Americans. Poetry is a transcending language. She utilized this form of writing to invite creative, expressive and memorable literature. Translation is also an important component of her work, to be able to communicate the Arab narrative to different audiences. This also opens the platform for the intersectionality of identity; i.e. how the stories of Arab Americans can be expressed differently in Arabic and English. The piece which Nathalie read evoked great attention and reaction from our audience. Check it out in the video!
During Dr Sakkal’s upbringing, art and architecture were not heavily emphasized. With the conflicts that exist in society, art was what was authentic to him. It was through his observations of how the visual arts brought value that he became interested in pursuing the field. He went from a painter to graphic designer to type. The Arabic language is a graceful, easily identifiable calligraphy. His focus and continued beautification of the writing led him to a prestigious career.
In short, the event was a success. All panelists and attendees expanded their connections and shared awareness. It is likely that the field of Arts has a future of greater Arab contribution, thanks to the influence of these amazing people. More Arab Americans are becoming inspired to share their perspectives. And more non-Arabs want to learn and experience the Arab narrative in the arts. These events are therefore significant for our communities to keep organizing and attending.
Stay tuned, for another Arab American heritage event next Sunday, April 25th: The Contributions of Arab Americans!
About the Arab America Foundation
The Arab America Foundation (AAF) is a non-profit (501c3) educational and cultural organization. The mission of AAF is to promote the Arab heritage, empower and educate others about the Arab identity, connect Arab Americans, and build coalitions with diverse organizations across the U.S.
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