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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - CHICAGO: A panel of Arab-American leaders from the cultural and academic professions acknowledged on Tuesday that despite being in the US for more than 150 years, their community remains marginalized.
“We’re still excluded from America,” Akram Khater, director of the Moises A. Khayrallah Center at North Carolina State University, said during the panel discussion that was organized by the Arab America Foundation and attended by Arab News.
“We’ve always been kept on the margins of American history … When we appear, we appear as the ‘other’ … and we’ve been brought out as the terrorists or the fanatics,” he added.
“It’s critical that we’re all trying to integrate the stories of Arabs in America into the mainstream … We’ve been here more than 150 years, and we’re very deeply woven into the fabric of this country.”
Diana Abouali, director of the Arab American National Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, said the landscape confronting the community “has changed quite a bit” since the museum first opened 16 years ago.
“We’ve changed from being very much an educational organization trying to educate others about Arab Americans, who we are, trying to dispel stereotypes,” she added.
“I think the museum and the Arab-American community in Dearborn has become much more aware and interested in inter-communal iterations. Who are Arab Americans? I think we’re more interested in learning about ourselves, the different communities, and we’re trying to be more presentational.”
Beshara Doumani, professor of Palestinian studies at Brown University, said Arab communities and institutions in the US need more financial support to build a “deeper awareness” of the community and research how Arab Americans “intersect” with other ethnic and racial groups.
“It’s not a question of belonging or the politics of recognition. In order to achieve what’s more dear to us, which is a dignified life that’s justice-based, we need to be in touch with other people in this country who are struggling for the same thing,” added Doumani, who was born in Saudi Arabia.
The panel also included Sally Howell, director of the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan, and Kate Seelye, vice president of arts and culture at the Middle East Institute.
The community is “not failing,” said Howell. “There have been incredible accomplishments in this community … There are people in the Arab community who are really doing the hard work in telling our stories.”
She added: “I think we’ve turned the corner here in terms of what the community is doing. It’s been great to see but we do need more help.”
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