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Go to any library and check out the Middle East Section and you will find that 99 percent of the books stocked are politically focused, usually written by professors for academic audiences. Approaching two centuries of existence in America from the mid-19th Century on, American Arabs have done a poor job of documenting that existence, from their contributions to their experiences. Visit the Ethnic and Cultural sections of libraries and book stores and it is the same thing. As if American Arabs don’t exist.
But we do exist.
A few authors have attempted to begin the process of documenting their own experiences. I’ve done two books, a personal memoir (I’m Glad I Look Like a Terrorist: Growing up Arab in America, renamed Ya Habibi in 2006) and a history of Arabs of Chicagoland (Arabs of Chicagoland). Other authors have detailed the experience of Arabs in Detroit, and Gregory Orfalea has written three on American Arab experiences including my favorite, Arab Americans: A History.
The late professor Michael Suleiman, my friend, did much research on American Arabs also. Yet, these books are few and far between in comparison to the vast library of books by Arabs and on the topic of Arabs and the Middle East.
A publisher once told me when I tried to sell my humor book that there is no market for history of Arabs in America. So publishers are not inclined to publish the stories and tales of American Arabs. One of my all time favorite books that talks about Arab settlement in Chicago is a book not written about the Arabs at all but rather the story of a serial killer who was operating at the time of the World Columbian Exposition of 1893 called Devil in the White City by Erik Larson. In detailing the grisly work of the serial killer, Larson spent many pages discussing the activities of the Arabs who arrived on Chicago’s shores in preparation for the World’s Fair.
That’s’ why I am so excited by another entry in to the realm of documenting the American Arab experience, Arab Americans in Toledo: Cultural Assimilation and Community Involvement. Although this is not a memoir in the sense of one author’s experiences in this country, it is a collection of essays by many authors.
If I have any criticism, is too many of the authors spent their valuable space writing what has already been written, about the Arabic language and about Islam and the Middle East. I’d rather have seen more details about the experiences, trials and tribulations of the Arab families and activists themselves. It’s one reason why I have spent so many years in journalism, believing as do mainstream journalists at mainstream publications that a primary role of a good newspaper is to serve as the “newspaper of record.”
The American Arab community has no newspaper of record at all, that’s why books like Arab Americans in Toledo is so important.
The stories are inspirational and fun to read. In the end, we discover, as we do in all books about the ethnic experience in America that the Arab experience is parallel to the experience of nearly every other ethnic group in America. The experiences are the same and they are different. That’s the joy about reading what our ancestors went through in settling in this country, serving as a foundation to not only document their own lives but to also document the circumstances of the nation at a time in which they lived.
The book is edited by Samir Abu-Absi.
Available at www.UToledoPress.com.
Published by the University of Toledo, in Ohio
— Ray Hanania
This post has already been read 48 times!
Hanania loves to write about American Arabs in politics, and focuses on Arab life in America.
Currently, he writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com. He writes on American politics for the Des Plaines Valley News, Southwest News-Herald, The Regional News newspaper and the Reporter Newspapers. He also writes for the online websites TheArabDailyNews.com and NewsAmericaNetwork.com (Illinois News Network at IllinoisNewsNetwork.com).
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem. Hanania began in journalism as an activist publishing Chicago’s first English-language American Arab Newspaper “The Middle Eastern Voice” from 1975 through 1977. In 1976, he was hired by the Chicago community newspaper The Southtown Economist (Daily Southtown) and in 1985 was hired by the Chicago Sun-Times and covered Chicago City Hall for both. In 1993, he launched the “The Villager” Newspapers which covered 12 Southwest Chicagoland suburban regions. In 2004, he published “The National Arab American Times” monthly newspaper which was distributed through 12,500 Middle East ethnic food stores in 48 American States.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media;In 2009, he received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. Hanania has also received two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild, and in 1990 was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
Hanania’s writings have been published in newspapers around the world. Formerly syndicated by Creators Syndicate, Hanania also has written news, features and Opinion Columns for Al Jazeera English, the Jerusalem Post, YNetNews.com, Arab News, Saudi Gazette, Newsday in New York, the Orlando Sentinel, the Houston Chronicle, The Daily Star, the News of the World, the Daily Yomimuri in Tokyo, Chicago Magazine, the Arlington Heights Daily Herald, and Aramco Magazine. His political columns are published in the Southwest News-Herald and Des Plaines Valley News, Regional News and Palos Reporter newspapers in Chicagoland. Hanania is the President/CEO of Urban Strategies Group media and public affairs consulting which has clients in Illinois, Florida, Michigan and Washington D.C.
Hanania is Palestinian Christian from prominent Bethlehem and Jerusalem families. His wife and son are Jewish and he performs standup comedy lampooning Arab-Jewish relations, advocating for peace based on non-violence, mutual recognition and Two-States.
His Facebook Page is Facebook.com/rghanania
Email him at: RGHanania@gmail.com
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