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See What This Group of Arab American Women Did in Utica!

posted on: May 23, 2018

See What This Group of Arab American Women Did in Utica!

By: Christine Shahin, Arab America Ambassador/Blogger

Every April, Arab America celebrates Arab American Heritage Month. Last year, I hosted An Evening of Arab Culture sharing Arab food, music, and poetry. This year I wanted to do more and pondered who might want to work on building Arab community?

Lynne and I had done community building, or Place Making, in Utica decades ago; we met at one of our favorite Arab eateries, with so many great ones in Utica, we do a different one each time.  We co-visioned a gathering of local Arab American women. We set goals to contact others we thought might be interested. It worked, I heard from Sadieann, yes she wants to participate, then Elaine joined in and it all started to unfold.

We spoke of our desire for a cultural secular sisterhood missing from our lives due to geographic distance, blended families, generations passing, diasporic trauma, and pace of life. We decided to start, where else but at the beginning, with women and food, honoring the feminine with a Mezza & wine gathering and also raise funds for our local Mohawk Valley Resource Center for Refugees to celebrate Arab American Heritage month.We created a social media event page, sold tickets online, and at the door.

We wanted to ensure we all got to interact with each other, so we created a dinner topic: Race, Culture & Religion because race and ethnicity are often used interchangeably, understanding their distinct meanings is important as the world grows smaller. Race based on physical features, ethnicity with culture, and religion with spiritual beliefs; where they overlap is where misunderstanding can live or be manipulated to control a narrative and, therefore, a populace. We acknowledged how there are no actual genetic differences among races, but only one human race with many shapes and colors though many have tried to disprove this with the goal of racial  supremacy.

We printed out topic definitions to be read aloud to spark our conversations and our experience as Arab American women. We also created bookmark favors with event information and Khalil Gibran quote we read opening our gathering:

“I Love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, and pray in your church. For you and I are children of one religion, and it is the spirit”

See What This Group of Arab American Women Did in Utica!

The evening arrived and 28 women gathered: some long-time friends, some strangers, an immigrant (Egypt) refugees (Iraq, Yemen), mostly US citizens, and community allies. The youngest was 26 yrs, and our eldest was 87 years old. We had lots of laughter, and even a surprise birthday celebration!

As we ate and read topic definitions, we reflected how definitions and laws change; we learned that Italian, Irish and Eastern European immigrants to the United States were not considered “white”, with immigration restrictions imposed on these“Alpine” or “Mediterranean” races. These categories no longer exist due to policy changes, and they are now assimilated and accepted into the wider “white” race.

Arab culture includes 22 diverse countries; the most evident commonality is the Arabic language, though dialects sometimes make communication difficult. This reminded me of Aljazeera’s 2010 article Return to Valley of the Jews,  a testimony of Lebanese strides to renovate  Beirut’s largest and only surviving synagogue – Magen Abraham.

Hearing  the women’s immigrant family stories and remembering my own family’s tales have put into perspective the evolution of my personal definition of the word “immigrant” from a spirit of bravery, seeking one’s destiny wading through the unknown, which is more autonomous than when partition, appropriation, and war happen. Th​is ​bravery is not for seeking one’s fortune but seeking survival, when partition, appropriation, and war happen.

 Immigration due to these and other offences, is not consensual, is not brave as we understand it.  At this table are daughters of political immigration, the second tier of impact. The first being our ancestors, directly impacted by occupation, war, and inequitable policies; those, who on the frontlines, have buried loved ones and face dangerous uncertainty.

See What This Group of Arab American Women Did in Utica!

We ended our gathering reading the lyrics to this song for refugees by Diane Patterson: Rouge River Highway

We truly enjoyed our gathering and we look forward to meet again mid June for an Arab breakfast!  I hope you join us creating your own secular gathering through the Arab America initiative; you will be so glad you did!