Category Archives: Being Arab in America

Not Since 1948

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unknown

Super moon

Beavermoon

Tonight we meet again.

Not since 1948.

Is it mere coincidence?

68 years ago we gazed at the moonrise from verandas overloooking the sea

We sipped sweet mint tea and spoke in hushed tones as the sky darkened

perhaps even gasped at she climbed the horizon, illumating her glorious fullness.

What A marvel! I could hear my great grandfather say. How bright it must have appeared to them then in the cloudless Levant evening.

Was the moon whispering messages then, as she is today?

Or it enough to just shine her glow on all our dark spaces.

“I see you” she exclaims dryly.  Like a sibling’s weary game. “You can come out now.”

Be prepared

Come together

Build your dreams

There is no where left to hide.

 

 

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We Are Providence: Featured Essay!

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Learn more about Devon, the “Lonely” tagger and support his campaign: https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/lonely-as-i-have-ever-been-providence/x/12087612

One of my essays has recently been featured in Frequency Providence’s first ever anthology, Missing Providence.

Order the Missing Providence Anthology Here! It’s chock full of local talent and great writing:

http://frequencywriters.org/2015/09/09/order-frequencys-anthology/

 

art and the post-industrial city

art and the post-industrial city

“She came from Providence, the one in Rhode Island Where the old world shadows hang heavy in the air She packed her hopes and dreams like a refugee Just as her father came across the sea “

– The Eagles, “The Last Resort”

He lives downtown...

He lives downtown…

 

We Are Providence

Each section of the city of Providence holds magic for me. Mount Pleasant is home to some of the only old growth oaks in the city, Federal Hill’s original Narragansett name is Nocabulabet, which means place between the ancient waters, and Fox Point was a major international shipping center, with slave ships and all. While the sycamores, forgotten bridges, and the layers of history are fair game for any artist searching for inspiration, Providence has burrowed her way into my dislodged center, setting it right again. She has made me feel at home against all odds.

Growing up Palestinian in Rhode Island, my need for relevance and connection was fierce. While undoubtedly this is connected to Palestine’s longing for statehood and international recognition, its also because Rhode Island is not an easy place to immigrate to. Directions are impossible to deal with unless you happen to know “where the old Dunkin Donuts used to be.” Sometimes the same road has several different route numbers and locations are referred to by their “unofficial” name. No, South county is not an actual county. I never set foot in Palestine, but with my Teta’s grandmother stories I at least got to feel like I did. I know the fishermen and orange groves in Yaffa well enough to imagine the sights and sounds of our ancestral land. I remember her countless retellings of that ill fated spring in 1948, with it’s thunderous bombings and dismembered bodies vividly enough to feel as though I witnessed them myself. While my grandmother’s stories were already seeding my identity, my own experience with fleeing Kuwait as a six year old added to the entanglement of roots.

My mother and I fled Kuwait a few weeks after the Iraqi invasion in 1990. Despite the whirlwind of narrowly escaping plundering soldiers, intense dessert heat, and a custody battle that included a thumb-less kidnapper hired by my father’s family, (a story for another day), I was thrown into this new world without so much as a guidebook. In elementary school while my classmates ate peanut butter jelly sandwiches, I ate Zaet and Zaatar pita my mom packed. In second grade you could easily spot me in the school cafeteria. I was that girl with the frizzy braids and thick rimmed pink glasses, (before they were cool) patiently explaining in broken English that no, I wasn’t eating bird poop, just herbs mixed with olive oil. My mother, finally freed from stifling gender norms could raise me without fear. Since she was divorced, it was law that I would only be with her till age eleven, after which my father-a distant but not wholly unpleasant accountant, would have been my legal guardian. Had my mother remarried or was caught out on a date, she would be deemed an unfit mother, losing custody even sooner, perhaps even securing my fate as a math whiz instead of a writer.

       As the months grew into years, the novelty of Rhode Island faded. I hungered after stability in people and places. I envied my classmates for the simple routines that involved sport practices or family vacations. While they went along their seasonal routines, in my family there was still talk of moving away, of new schools, new relationships, and yet another world to get accustomed to. I ached for a predictable life. I still find myself in awe of people who have the notion that life will unfold in exactly the same way it had for generations. I knew the comfort was an illusion. I understood that friends had some flavor of childhood trauma or economic insecurity rippling beneath the placid surface of their day to day lives, but I envied the illusion. My experiences were too raw to be hidden. They had marked me with a discordant vibration; amplified by the cadence of my mispronounced name. I recognize this discordance is others, in fact, Providence is abuzz with it; all those layers of old world muck latticed through downtown’s polished center. You can see it in people and places like the half collapsed Moshassuck bridge; centuries old, dark in the shadow of newly constructed luxury condominiums. My insecurities mirrored by the city itself. I might not have fit in where I wanted to, but at least Providence understands.

I could never experience home in the same way my Teta did but I could lean on Providence for support. Like so many before me, I have been seduced by this haven for those “distressed for conscience” and I’ld like to think that it’t no mere coincidence. While researching the history of State Pier One’s role in immigration for a story idea, I came across some surprising information.

The Fabre Line, a fleet of steamships, supplied Providence with immigrants well into the twentieth century. Immigration quotas threatened to put the Fabre Line out of business, but they decided to redirect the routes and pick up immigrants and visitors from cities like Beirut, Alexandria and Yaffa. Yaffa! The same city my family was forced to flee in 1948. This steamship came from Providence and went to Yaffa as part of it’s journey, to pick up goods and people way back before my disoriented self ever stood on that Providence pier.

Fabre Line

      Could it be that after several years of defining myself as a misplaced and misunderstood outcast, that I actually been home in Providence after all? Do I have ancestors floating around having a good laugh; chuckling ‘oh silly girl! nothing is random.’ ? I remember downtown before the mall, before Water Place Park and well before those luxury towering condos. The tourism council will have you thinking that Providence always had a glowing face of fancy restaurants and Waterfire, but I knew her before the Botox injections. Before she tried to hide her puffy post-industrial eyes and walk in Boston’s high healed pumps. Maybe if we sit by the Providence River at dusk and look down toward the smoke stacks and consider the gentle lapping of its briny water we could hear the voices that came before us. If we hold still and listen closely we might even hear H. P. Lovecraft famously proclaim, I am Providence. To which we can now respond: “No Mr. Lovecraft. We are Providence”.

misty Providence River

misty Providence River

Fabre Steamship in Providence Hatbor

Fabre Steamship in Providence Hatbor

 

***PUT PROVIDENCE ON THE LITERARY MAP!!   Support Frequency, order the anthology, check out the featured workshops: http://frequencywriters.org

*** SUPPORT Devon and the pursuit of accessable art: https://life.indiegogo.com/fundraisers/lonely-as-i-have-ever-been-providence/x/12087612

 

WRITE OR BE WRITTEN

Sure I’ll Teach at an All-Boy-Catholic School. Im Muslim. That’s Close, Yea?

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Teaching at a private all boys catholic schools is surprisingly not a culture shock… “Remember that we are in the holy presence of God”  is on the speaker before annoucements.

kitten's feelin the holy presence...

kitten’s feelin the holy presence…

Kinda like my elementary school in Kuwait expect we sang the kuwait national anthem too…

so we wont give ya citizenship, but yall still gotta sing our anthem, k?

so we wont give ya citizenship, but yall still gotta sing our anthem, k?

Pali wha? no u cant have citizenship!

Pali wha? no u cant have citizenship!

either way its whatevs cause really folks:

a. RI has the highest unemployment rate and I need a consistant jobby job

im sayin though

im sayin though

b. i needz jobby job

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c.  because jobs

AND

d.  When was the last time I was in a space where my nationality/religion/idently /gender was represented anyways? (Bah!)

Just call me the Undercover Muslim/Arab/Palestinian… I’ve gotten pretty used to it over the years.  I  went to school in Johnston Rhode Island which is the Jersey Shore’ revivals for most italian american’s per capita.

pauly D went to my school

pauly D went to my school

…I have big hair and brown eyes, I’m Italian. right!

So, I just rolled with it till I couldn’t anymore… which was approximately 11th grade when I spazed out at classmates via shared journal writing.  The 2nd intifada broke out and I needed an outlet.  Hearing homegirl complain about some chick stealing her BF  or something was my trigger.  I let loose. Found it necessary to detail all the ways in which my peers were losing their lives halfway across the world due to US government funded occupation.   There may have also been a bit of shallow suburbanite white picket fence bashing too… meh.  I was 16.  My love of spinach calzones aside, Im fairly sure that blew my italio-americano cover.    

  Opps.

yummmm

yummmm

I managed to fly under the radar as an undercover Muslim just up until 9-11 which was my senior year in high school.  When I found myself engaged in a heated discussions about biased and misinformed media depictions of the Middle East.

“How do you know?”  came up a lot.

“Cause I am Palestinian and that’s now how my family is.”

“Oh! I thought you were Pakistani or something…”

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The best real life thing that was said to me ( i swear im not making it up) during this time period was in senior math class when Miss Cheer Captain said to the entire class:

Daria pretty much sums it up...

Daria pretty much sums it up…

“Oh, I know its those Palestinians. [that blew up the twin towers] They are always blowing stuff up.”

To which I replied, “Um, I am Palestinian and you don’t see me blowing shit up right now, do you?”

“No your not! Your an A-rab.”

To which the sweet, well meaning little blond math teacher replied,

“We are not gonna talk about it girls, take out your math books.”

Cover blown.  Again.

It wasn’t like I actually wanted to stay under the radar on purpose or anything.  I was just trying to be a ‘normal’ young person.  One that could just be herself and chill and whatnot.  Expect when I realized that most other ‘normal’ young people got to be in spaces that also represented or at least acknowledged them.

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Now, as a grown-up, I recognize and respect that awkwardly sensitive time in young people  ( well, in all people) when they are trying to piece together their place in the world.  I recognize that it was those formative moments,- when I refused to keep my mouth shut- that inform my work as a teacher/mother/person in the world.

death_to_all_arabs

Check Out More A-rab comedy here!  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S0KAbBlzFbU

It’s a journey…

One that encourages an underemployed PalestinianAmericanMuslim to say “Sure.  I’ll Teach at an all-boy-Catholic School.

Alhamdulah!