Category Archives: Arab American Writers

Once upon a Time…


“Media are major industries, generating profits and employment, they provide us with most of our information about the political process, and they offer us ideas, images and representations (both factual and fiction) that inevitably shape our view of reality.” (David Buckingham, Media Education)

I immigrated to the United States in the fall of 1990.  Iraq invaded our adopted country of Kuwait (my family was originally from Palestine) in August of that summer and after weeks of fleeing and general bureaucratic drama we finally landed in little Rhode Island, making us refugees twice in three generations.

The most memorable part (even though there were many) of leaving the only home I ever knew in Kuwait was the fact that I was only allowed to bring one toy and one book along on that journey.  This was a tall order, an only child and grandchild who (until then), but been lavished with every toy, craft, and Barbie dream house set available in the 80’s.  I spurned the cabbage patch kids and Barbie bedroom set for the soft and cuddly panda bear I aptly named Dabdoob. (Doob is Arabic for bear).

The infamous Dabdoob posing with a photo of my youngest child

The infamous Dabdoob posing with a photo of my youngest child

I provided emotional support to poor little Dabdoob (he was a bit guileless in his young years) on the journey out of Kuwait; military checkpoints, arid desert heat, custody battles, embassy lines, patriarchy, you know the usual…and the main way I did that was by reading to him.

The book I chose was my favorite at the time, Hans Christian Andersen’s Little Mermaid.  Now, before we get any farther, I need to clarify this was NOT the Disney version.  Happily ever after was ambiguous for the Little Mermaid, who ended up essentially sacrificing her life for that of her love, the prince.  You can read this version Here. It was clear that even at that young age, I already had deeply entrenched ideas about gender, female power (or lack of it), and societal expectations.

A mermaid has not an immortal soul, nor can she obtain one unless she wins the love of a human being. On the power of another hangs her eternal destiny.

I mean you may as well take out “mermaid” and replace it with female here and take it from there.

Unseen she kissed the forehead of her bride, and fanned the prince, and then mounted with the other children of the air to a rosy cloud that floated through the aether

Yup, here she is, giving it all up so that the prince can have this other lady while she floated through the aether until she can earn an immortal soul…

anyone wanna tell her they are other fish in the sea...?!

anyone wanna tell her they are other fish in the sea…?!


Well, needless to say, Dabdoob was totally taken by it, but I wasn’t buying any of it. I liked my princesses strong and loud with big badass hair but it would be another twenty years before Hollywood and the general media caught up.  At least it kept us occupied while my mom replenished our water supply in the intense August heat, or when we ran out of gas on the outskirts of Bagdad.  The familiar story lulled us to sleep in the back of my mom’s read Honda at the desert sky darkened and filled with stars.

Flash forward a couple months in America, I found myself repeating first grade since I had zero English. I have vivid memories of my teacher being really nice and patient. For one of our projects that year she had us write stories.  My oral English was fine, but I hadn’t mastered reading or writing yet.  She let me tell her my story while she transcribed my words for me to copy down later and this was the result:

The Poor Princess

The Poor Princess.  Wait? Is she levatating?



And here is the story page by page:


dat penminship tho

dat penmanship tho




What's better than a cookie eating monster vanqushing princess?

What’s better than a cookie eating monster vanquishing princess?







Big hair dont care



The end.

The princess didn’t need anyone’s help, just her own ability to eat a magic cookie. BAM!

In 2nd grade I created a princess that was also able to enlist the help of forest creatures and the natural environment to kick invading colonial forces (okay, an evil witch) out of her land- er, castle.

I wrote this one is 2nd grade!

There was ALWAYS a princess...

The princess was made a refugee, wonder where I got that idea from?! Ha!


My stories have gotten more complex over the years (probably not by much!) But the ideas of going against the general or popular grain of social expectations, especially ones reflected in the media remains at the heart of my writing. Dabdoob is not impressed though, he doesn’t like making waves.

Before the war, surrounded by my bday loot!

Before the war, surrounded by my bday loot!






Orientalist Travel Posters: Pretty Little Liars


So what does my graduate seminar about Arab American literature have to do with some old-school travel posters?

Ha! “Imperial”

Well… My seminar discusses Arab American writers’  journey towards self-actualization and self-identification…this journey is made all the more challenging after generations of orientalist and imperialist thinking that attempted to boil our culture down to the bare minimum, creating stereotypes and feeding into racist hierarchical power structures…

All North African women collect water dressed like that, right?

I decided to include some travel posters  from back in the day in my presentation as evidence of orientalist thought and as an example of how the Middle East was defined and in many cases still is…

okay so I get the other images, after all, it was the early 20th century. But what’s THEIR excuse? Apparently Kerri never got the memo that the whole Lawrence in Arabia thing is no longer recommended for good Mideast relations…

“That’s right white folks, this is what we really do”

Orient: Any where east of here…it doesn’t matter, it’s all the same…

Hey! Where did his magic carpet go?

But other images showcase the complexity of oriental imagination existing alongside early Middle Eastern immigrants. Here is a record cover from the 1920’s:

saw an Oriental show and then decided she would go
to Mecca across the sea.…
She stayed there just two years, got full of new ideas,
And now she’s back home again.…
Oh! Oh! Ev’ry one worried so; they think she’s crazy in the dome;
She’s as bold as Theda Bara, Bara’s bare but Becky’s barer,
Since Rebecca came back home.
In Mecca where the nights are hot,
Rebecca got an awful lot of learning.…
Her mother feels so sad. Her brother Moe is mad,
And he keeps on complaining so;
To satisfy his whim, she keeps on calling him,
“Mohammed” instead of Moe.

Interested? Read more here:   cited:

Not all travel posters depicted stereotypes:

But I think this gets the cake:

Leila Khaled: she’s a G.