A virtual opening ceremony Monday evening kicked off the 2021 Arab Heritage Month at the University of Michigan, which will host events until April 8. Sponsored by the Office of Multi-Ethinic Student Affairs and coordinated by a committee of students and faculty, Monday’s online celebration marked the second consecutive year of a virtual Arab Heritage Month due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arab Heritage Month will include a variety of events listed on the Arab Heritage Month calendar, including an Arab Heritage Kahoot on March 26 and a coalition building teach-in on April 7.

The opening ceremony included the reveal of the Arab Heritage Month calendar, logo and this year’s theme, which is “Mosaic.” The ceremony also featured a keynote lecture and a Q&A session with Judge Rashad Hauter, the first Yemeni judge in the United States who currently serves as a district court judge in Wake County, N.C. 

LSA sophomore Hadi Allouch, one of the event’s coordinators, told The Daily before the event that Hauter was chosen to speak at the opening ceremony because he represents an important “first” in the Arab community.

“Judge Hauter is someone who represents the law and is going to be representing Arabs abroad,” Allouch said. “I think he’s a perfect keynote speaker who can talk about diversity and individuality … We admire his resilience and how he represents Arabs not just here in Michigan or the United States, but across the world as well.”

During the ceremony, Hauter said he sees his role as the first Yemeni judge as one way to continue opening doors for other Arab-Americans.

“The importance of being the first in a particular area or career pathway in your community … is that you open the pathway in the doorways for other folks in your community, letting them know that if this person from my community can do it, then I can do it too,” Hauter said. “You’re all role models for the youth in our community.”

Throughout the ceremony, Hauter emphasized the importance of self-advocacy in order to more effectively support oneself and the Arab community. 

“No matter what field you end up in your career, you are going to be an advocate for yourself, you’re going to be an advocate for your community,” Hauter said. “It’s always important that you be involved in your community and whenever you see an injustice … There’s no better way to be forged as an advocate for others than to be an advocate for yourself.”

LSA sophomore Zeina Reda, co-coordinator of Monday’s event, wrote in an email to The Daily that the theme of “mosaic” represents the diversity and uniqueness of all Arab cultures.

“Our theme for this month is the mosaic of the Arab identity, which highlights that although we are all in fact Arab, the individuality and diversity in each of our 22 cultures comes together to make a beautiful mosaic,” Reda wrote. “We are not a ‘melting pot’ of Arabs … Our goal for this Arab Heritage Month is to bring our campus community together to empower and celebrate Arab and Arab American identities.”

Echoing Reda’s point, LSA sophomore Farah Saad, Arab Heritage Month co-coordinator, explained to The Daily in an interview before the event that many non-Arab individuals associate Arab culture solely within the Levant, a group of eight Arabic countries consisting of Cyprus, Israel, Turkey, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Iraq. Saad said the goal of Arab Heritage Month is to highlight all Arab countries and that having Hauter open the celebration was one way to do so.

“There are so many countries outside of the Levant that should be recognized as Arab and … just be given a platform,” Saad said. “We’re individuals who come together to make something greater. And so the fact that (Hauter is) not part of the Levant and he’s part of the Arab world, it was just so important that we highlighted other countries so that everybody felt included.”

Hauter also spoke about the importance of representing the Arab world as a community composed of unique individuals and practices. Hauter said the diversity within the Arab world has become more nationally recognized and featured in political conversations, opening opportunities for more members of the Arab community.

“The idea of the Arab world and Arab Americans being a mosaic has come to the forefront in national dialogue recently,” Hauter said. “There’s been more diversity being represented in the spotlight in politics, in rallies, in protests of Arab groups that have historically not been at the forefront of these public issues and political issues.” 

Allouch said he hopes the events offered throughout the month will provide the U-M community an opportunity to engage with and celebrate Arab culture and identities.

“I hope that people feel included by the events and the speakers and how we represent ourselves and other identities,” Allouch said. “I hope that people feel more encouraged to learn about our culture, and also participate … by joining in and helping out and collaborating and contributing to our culture.”

Daily Staff Reporter Lara Janosz can be reached at ljanosz@umich.edu.

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